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Better septic systems in Maryland would cut pollution, cost more

It's an all-too-common conflict between business and nature: New technology designed to reduce pollution and other negative effects on the environment often costs more, making developers and business owners reluctant to adopt it. We're seeing this conflict once again with a proposal by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration requiring all new construction to use the best available technology in septic systems.

New regulations requiring advanced technology in Maryland's septic systems would significantly reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, according to Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. The regulations would reduce nitrogen released into the bay and cut nitrogen pollution levels by 11.6 million pounds by 2026, the equivalent of the output of 31,000 households each year.

But critics of the regulations said they would add at least $8,000 to the cost of each new home at a time when homebuyers are already struggling. When the proposal was discussed by a legislative committee this week, lawmakers opposed to it pointed out that the state Legislature rejected a statewide requirement to use the best available technology in 2009, and called the new proposal a back-door effort to implement the plan.

The Maryland Association of Counties is also concerned about the regulations. Although it isn't entirely opposed to them, the group said local health departments could be forced to hire more people to inspect construction sites to enforce the regulations.

The Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review could vote on the regulations as early as next week. If they're approved, the Department of the Environment will open up the issue for public comment until Aug. 15 before making any final decisions.

When it comes to the costs of construction vs. the cost of the environment, what interest should take precedence? Reducing pollution, unfortunately, isn't always good for business. But there's a reasonable argument that in exchange for saving money on construction now, we'll all pay the price in the long run. What do you think?

Source: The Washington Post, "Panel hears testimony on regulations requiring best available technology for septic systems," July 10, 2012

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