House to Brown: You’re Not Pulling the Wool Over Our Eyes!

Yesterday, the Warner administration’s budget point man, Ric Brown, minimized the significance of changes made to a preliminary budget document (fiscal 2007-2008) that appeared to eliminate $290 million in transportation funds and $100 million for Chesapeake Bay clean-up. But House Republicans aren’t buying his explanation.

Robert Vaughn, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC), disagrees with Brown’s characterization of the “base budget,” which was presented to the House earlier this week, “as merely a ‘technical’ exercise.” In a letter to Brown dated today, he wrote:

Ric, clearly the development of the base budget is driven by preliminary decisions made by someone. Whether subsequent decisions are made through the “decision package process” is yet another step. However, in my more than 20 years of building budgets, the development of the base budget has always been an integral step in the overall budget process.

As GP Nardo, chief of staff to House Speaker William Howell, elaborated in an e-mail accompanying Vaughn’s letter:

[Brown’s] protestations respectfully acknowledged and notwithstanding, we’re not buying their disengenuous argument. … A DECISION WAS MADE (that is a fact) to remove the transportation funding from the base budget under the pretense that this was one-time funding. … So, unless or until the Governor makes ANOTHER DECISION to put the money back in, we’re going to continue to consider it as it having been removed, which is what the Administration presented to HAC on Monday.

I’d be very interested to hear from those with a vested interested in transportation and/or Chesapeake Bay funding — calling Steve Haner! Calling Steve Haner! — to weigh in on this issue. Are you concerned? Are House leaders overreacting, or is the Warner administration really trying to yank the money?

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  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Talk sbout inside baseball….As I used to say constantly in my job with the Chamber, I’ve got friends on both sides of this fight and I stand with my friends.

    If Ric Brown says it was his staff made all the assumptions in that document, designating the mandatory from the discretionary spending, and the Third Floor didn’t drive that — well, Brown has a great reputation as a steady hand at that agency and I believe him. I can’t imagine him fibbing for the Governor.

    I haven’t done the research on whether the insurance money is dedicated to transportation in the code or merely in the budget bill, but if it isn’t in the actual code it is discretionary. If it is in the actual code their complaints have more validity. For that question, ask a lawyer (an AG’s opinion might be the next step in this…)

    The House is quite right to underline the importance of maintaining that money — and keeping the moral if not legal pledge contained in the 2005 legislative package. It could have done so with a letter to the Governor that was NOT released to the world, but it is after all an election year.

    Governor’s enjoy holding the cards close to their chests, and the aces are all in the budget. He could propose something very different on transportatation that produced as much or more money. Or by close of business today he could say, sure it’s in the base and all this goes away.

    The House leaders are trying to force the Governor to tell us now he will include this in the budget. Looking long term, they want him to maintain that strategy because putting it in the introduced budget helps in the real battle — with the Senate. Looking short term they want to demonstrate their commitment to transportation and defend the one (1!) dedicated source of real money created this year. If they can call into question the Governor’s committment to transportation, so much the better.

    Transportation has gone from Rodney Dangerfield (getting no respect) to some rock star surrounded by groupies determined to prove their love. We’ll find out after the election if its just the wine talking.

  2. Somebody fill me in on the Chesapeake Bay thing. As I understand it the state has obligations or commitments to raise that money, with consequences for failing to do so.

    People don’t understand either the value or the cost of this project, I believe. But the cost is beginning to hit home.

    One of if not the largest polluters of the ay is Agriculture, with yard maintenance second, and sewage treatement third, or something like that.

    Chesapeake Bay foundation says cleanup might cost agriculture a billion dollars. That kind of pressure will undoubtedly cause more scattered development as farmers exit the business. A Fauquier Supervisor noted that if he has to abide by new setback from stream rules “I won’t have much farm left”.

    The Faquier WSA is alredy making noises that it is unreasonable for their small plants to meet high efficiency effluent standards.

    Such issues aside, what makes the state think they can avoid this obligation, if there is one?

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Ray: I think animals in the wild are number 3. Not kidding.

    Forgive me, but again for public policy I’d really like to see the cause and effect study. X pollutant on y area z distance from a1 stream b1 distance from bay causes z pollution of x2 pollutant across volume (n,m,o) of The Bay. Where are those studies?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Chesapeake Bay pollution has been studied extensively. Its effects have been studied extensively. A decision to clean it up was made, and commitments entered into (or forced upon us, depending on your view). It’s time to reduce all the sources of pollution to the Bay – not just for the Bay’s sake, but for the sake of the environment in general. If you wouldn’t want to swim in it in the Bay, you wouldn’t want to drink it in your groundwater. At some point spending money doing studies that try to poinpoint blame for pollution and arguing over whether fertilizer, power plants or cowshit should be reduced is a waste of time and money. At this point, efforts and resources should be focussed on reducing all pollutants that aren’t part of the natural cycle of life (such as cowshit).

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon. I’d like to reduce the pollutants going in and clean up the pollutants that get in. That doesn’t detract from being armed with knowledge. I’d like to see the studies and the numbers.

    I’ve seen construction costs in the Bay Preservation zone that looked pretty bogus. One in particular was a home swimming pool about 200 yards from a creek and half a mile from a river that goes into The Bay. Cost an extra $200 for a ‘study’ – meaning a drawing of the pool, a hole in the ground. Then another $600 for 2 feet strip of black plastic layed on top of the mud during construction. There was mud above and below the plastic. I never understood how the plastic did anything except make the rain go to either side. That is one reason why I’d like to see the studies and their numbers.

  6. I have to agree with Anon on this one.

    I was once an environmental chemist specializing in identifying trace compounds in the natural environment. If you sample four mile run in Alexandria or Goose Creek in FAuquier, I’m sure you could find everthing from antidepressants to bith control compounds to cocaine to zinc chromate.

    Some of those products will be antibiotics and growth hormones that come from cow manure.

    If you think there is anything natural going into cows these days, then you don’t understand the business. Even the grass they eat is artificially created to inhibit naturally occurring fungus and endophytes that are harmful to cattle growth.

    JAB is right, a good bit of nitrogen does come from wildlife, and we are now so good at tracking these things we can tell what comes from wildlife and what comes from pets. That said, the sewer authority will let you put your well as close as a hundred feet to your septic. What does that tell you?

    If you really want to see the studies and the numbers, you had better have lots of time. One reason I got out of the business was that it was too depressing. I came to the tentative conclusion that the entire environmental movement was a put-up PR job created by the mafia in order to protect and enhance their garbage hauling monopoly.

    Sounds like a plot for a Grisham novel.

    I, too, have seen silt fence placed where it could not possibly do a bit of good: around a barn construction site on a dead flat level field and surrounded by a hundred acres of grass. This is patently nuts, but the law says you have to have silt fence. But like the “truck covers” it doesn’t hve to be adequate or conscientiously applied. It is a good example of where the environmental people are off the deep end.

    But, applying silt fence is now a specialty occupation that brings in millions of dollars. It may be another example of a law passed solely to create or protect a class of business.

    Then, of course, you have to dispose of the silt fence. (More Mafia.) Anyway siltation of the Bay is a separate problem from pollution, and much of it occured generations ago, when the forests in Pennsylvania and Maryland were cleared.

    I don’t hear anyone seriously suggesting that we dredge the Bay to its former depths. (The Potomac river was once a hundred feet deep in Georgetown.)If you did that you would probably create enough new space to house the next generation without developing any more “prime farmland”.

    When I used to sail on the Bay and got the occasional spray on board and in the face, it didn’t even taste like water. You don’t need a Gas Chromatograph – Mass Spectrometer that can measure in the parts per trillion to understand that everything goes down hill.

    I don’t think you really want to clean up the pollutants that get in the Bay. There is plenty of gold floating around out there but you would go broke extracting it. Then, if you actually extracted all the stuff in the Bay, where would you put it?

    It is enormously expensive just to go after the point sources like huge chicken farms, industrial sources and sewage treatment.

    And then you have to dispose of the sludge.

    But the environmental whackos don’t care about the cost: only infinitely clean is good enough, never mind that such a goal has an infinite price. And even if we had that much money, it would cost another equal amount to decide where to put the sludge.

    EMR has argued that 95% of the population ought to live on 5% of the land. I don’t doubt that is possible, but I’m pretty sure that the cost is asymptotic to infinity. It’s another symptom of wanting what you wnt without regard to the cost.

    After you spend all the money in the world to make point sources perfectly clean, the whackos want to go after non-point sources. I’m pretty sure they won’t stop until the law says cows have to wear diapers. (Remember silt fence?).

    Horses in the city already wear diapers. Presumably run-off in the city is more important than run off where horses actually live.

    Then there is the question of desirable. The vast majority of chemistry is organic chemistry, and all of it is part of the organic world. So which chemical should we stop making first, beer?

    Now, I’m a firm believer in better living through chemistry: I’d be dead a long time ago without my daily doses of products that some people think are not natural.

    I also like my beer. So when Coors gets fined five million dollars for an accidental spill that caused a fish kill in the sparkling waters the beer is made from, then I’m not sure what to think. I want clean water AND cheap beer.

    Even if it contains fish pee.

    So my question is the same. Is the state serious about avoiding its obligations in this matter, and if so, is it the will of the people?

    That is the study I’d like to see.

  7. For more about chesapeake bay protection and RPA’s see

    This is over the top and insightful, all at once.

  8. Ian Heatwole Avatar
    Ian Heatwole

    For Mr Hyde and others, this from the executive summary of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s July 2004 Manure Report, FWIW: “While sewage treatment plant discharges contribute the largest amount of this pollution that is deposited directly into the Bay, animal
    manure is the single biggest source of nitrogen and phosphorus applied to the land, and the second-biggest source of
    nitrogen pollution actually reaching the Bay.”
    (Emphasis my own.)

    I suppose one could argue that it is a matter of semantics, who out-ranks who in the pollution standings.

    There are 11 times more livestock than people in the bay watershed, yet still livestock is (indirectly) ranked second. It becomes very easy for the public and political officials to think that an industry of which they have limited knowledge of, or connection to, (agriculture in this case) causes the lion’s share of a problem. This, even as they are returning to their office in the Capitol Building after visiting the restroom and flushing the commode.

    However, also from the CBF report, animal and human waste combined account for less that 40% of the nitrogen entering the bay. Thus….less than one-fifth of the nitrogen entering the bay is comming from…what was so elloquently refered to as…cowshit. As an aside, for many years the number one source of nitrogen entering the bay was Dullas Airport, as a nitrogen solution was used as a de-icer.

    Regardless…the question concerns the commitments and obligations of Virginia to the bay, and how they came about.

    In (I believe) 2000 the group of states contained in the bay watershed entered into an agreement with the EPA concerning a plan to improve the health of the bay. There was a list of specific criteria to be met by 2010 concerning nutrient reduction in the bay watershed. If those criteria were not met, then EPA would take jurisdiction of the situation.

    Alas, 2010 is not nearly as far off as it once was, and progress was being made, however not at a pace that would meet the requirements of the agreement with EPA. Enter the “how can we keep from giving the surplus back to the taxpayers” debate of last session. Some of that money was allocated for the bay “preservation” programs, like cost sharing, and others in the hopes of boosting the chances of making the deadline.

    So would it really be that bad if EPA came in and wrested control of the situation away from the localities?

    I have a friend who operates a dairy farm in Florida, south of Tampa Bay. The manure from the operation is composted, and sold off the farm. For lack of a better term, the cows are fed via “assisted grazing”. He brings the (all natural…more on that later) grass, cut fresh, twice daily to the cows, instead of bringing the cows to the grass. Neither the cows, nor the waste set foot on the fields. EPA found him in violation of his waste management plan because his soils contained very high levels of phosphorus. They found that his practices were contributing to the problem, and that cows should not be located on that property. Mind you, the manure was leaving the farm, and the land adjoining his is a PHOSPHORUS MINE! Much of the phosphorus sent to the midwest and throughout the nation is surfaced mined in his area precisely because of the very high concentrations of phosphorus in the soils. Yet EPA sites his cattle as a source of the high levels of P in the soil. I don’t want an agency that makes such conclusions in charge any more than necessary.

    Not that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation or the DEQ have a much clearer handle on reality either. This summer, while contemplating changes to nutrient management guidlines ostensibly brought on by the need to meet this agreement with EPA, DCR’s economic analysis of the changes theorized that the new regulations would cost wastewater treatment plants statewide a total of $500,000. The director of the Alexandria WWTP reports that it will cost more than four times that for his one locality to comply.

    I must at take issue with the statement that there is nothing natural going into cows, and to think that there is shows a lack of understading of the business. By now you can guess that I am involved (rather intimately) in “the business” and have to question how or where you came to your “understanding”. The same techniques used to create the thousands of kinds of produce like sweet corn, pinto beans, and even “heirloom” tomatoes and apples have been applied to “create” this grass. Should we eschew sweet corn in favor of flint, or “indian” corn? The breeding techniques used to create these plants are no more artificial that the techniques that spawned us all. I invite you for a visit to see just what is going into my cows these days.

    Your point about the fallacy of obtaining an infinitely clean environment without regard of economics is exactly correct. Even CBF, no strangers to “whacko-ism” and agenda driven science, seem to understand this concept now. Solutions to these problems must be economically sound, but the fact remains that each “step” towards the goals laid out in the EPA agreement will be more costly than before.

    Richmond will always be able to find some “bill in the drawer” to justify increasing tax burdens weather or not this $100 million gets spent on the bay or not. The question becomes, will the solution be more realistic, cost less, and cause less hardship, if EPA takes charge and removes the local control over the situation. It seems unlikely, to say the least.

    I say lets keep our obligations funded, and keep D.C. and the EPA out of our bathrooms.

  9. Thank you Ian. Your views and mine are closely aligned, as I am (peripherally) associated with the livestock industry.

    I agree that many of the (un-natural) products are less un-natural than some would ascribe. And there are growers who don’t use growth hormones, antibiotics, or artificial feed.

    There are also growers that feed their cows averything from chicken litter to gummy bears.

    I agree with you on semantics: the sewage treatment is direct discharge to the bay or bay tributaries. Although the animal population is much larger some of that material is used up before it reaches the bay.

    I love the example of the Phosphorus mine.

    Here is the way I see it: some people want a perfectly clean environment and they will stop at nothing to get it. They are in a position to make very persuasive arguments. They would care less if many farms went under as a result of added environmental costs, and they would be even happier if they reverted to an all natural environment where even disturbing the vegetation is a crime, as in the impending RPA’s. And if this resulted in less scattered development, they would be even happier.

    These people have an agenda, and they are not particularly concerned with truth, costs, or reasonableness.

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