Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Storm Water: Who Decides What Is Good Sense?

Repeating a phrase from yesterday's blog seems appropriate to this one, too:

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Today's Crosscut article addresses the latest attempt to delay -again- regulations that are more effective for storm water control. This seems like 'deja vu' all over again to me, so I posted this comment from my own experience:


The idea seems ironic to postpone doing something that is good sense just because the 'economy' isn't very good right now. With the historic stand taken by the Building Industry, no new regulations would ever be passed or implemented, particularly if developers are required to pay their 'fair share' of costs borne by all citizens, abide by required rules, or spend time explaining what is planned in return for a permit. That mentality is what got us into the present situation where the very quality of our own habitat is severely threatened!

DOE has a big responsibility and limited authority -or will- to act reasonably and in a timely manner to actually address solving the non-source pollution problem that is so problematic, yet its wings are repeatedly clipped by the slightest resistance to tighter and more effective regulations. Ecology has now developed such a reputation for wimping out and continual delay that, unfortunately, this behavior is no longer a surprise, but a frustration. Can you imagine any caring professional working for an organization like that? It's an unfunny joke, and a gross disservice to the public, which pays for reasonable services to help protect the air, water and soil we all depend upon.

Granted, that DOE can excel at its job if given necessary support from municipalities and the State Legislature, but without that support you can see what happens, repeatedly. The problem is that after-the-fact mitigation is always less effective and more expensive than getting things right from the first; which is why more delay won't help at all, but make the observed problems worse! Of course developers will play the deny, decry, delay game! That simply takes them off the hook and defers liability onto the home owner and municipality -at a higher environmental and social cost.

Several years ago, Bellingham was able to make its Surface & Storm Water Utility more effective by implementing the latest DOE/EPA rules and raising rates to pay for them. That was an understandably painful process, but it now seems to have worked. Guess who led the fight against that change? If you guessed the Building Industry, you'd be right -and that was during an economic boom period of record levels!

In fairness, the Storm Water permitting is often the most difficult to do, and the most expensive and time-intensive. Largely, this difficulty was due to several logical factors, among others; topography and vegetative cover become more important, interfacing with the already-built infrastructure can require ingenuity and expense, treating the storm water for pollutants is necessary, codifying new guidelines takes time and one size doesn't fit every situation. But, what is the excuse for not using the new rules for new development? There, one has a pretty clean slate to actually practice the art of low-impact techniques, thereby avoiding many of the problems outlined above.

In the end, more delay of storm water improvements for the asking doesn't help anyone, except the lobbyists -like the BIA- and that is a short-term, special favor that the rest of us -or our children- must pay for some day, in some way, but well after people forget the linkage to unwanted consequences.


PS. Today's Gristle further illuminates the problem of 'doing the right thing' at it's most basic level; following the existing law! Is there any hope for Whatcom County? No wonder DOE has problems!