Home > Uncategorized > Accountability versus Liability (Part 2)

Accountability versus Liability (Part 2)

December 11, 2013

This difference between accountability and liability is an important but not widely discussed aspect of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. The TMDL is not a regulation. But meeting the pollution load allocations in the TMDL will probably require new regulations. This implies that the accountable parties (state and local staff and officials) will need to create liable parties, whether they be farmers, developers, or the rest of us. Since regulations imply the imposition of costs on segments of the electorate, the people charged with organizing all of this would rather talk about anything else.

As with taboo subjects in general, because policy-makers aren’t talking about how liability is going to be imposed in the context of the TMDL doesn’t mean they are not thinking about it. There seems to be an in-group/out-group thing going wherein if you do talk about it, you talk about it within your group. Partnership not-withstanding. Still, information that gives you a hint of what various players think about additional liability is broadly available. If you want to see what the farm bureau has to say about it, you can go here: http://mdfarmbureau.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/MFBPolicy2013.pdf. If you want to know what the developers are saying about it, you can go here: http://www.sagepolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/builders4-14.pdf‎. And, if you want to know what the Counties think of it, you can go here: http://conduitstreet.mdcounties.org/2012/09/07/17779/.

Mostly, people would rather not see their or their constituency’s ox gored. No big surprise, there. More interesting is how these various concerns get incorporated into policy and whether all of that is a good thing vis-à-vis policy objectives. Under its “Accounting for Growth” discussion (see Appendix S of the TMDL), the State of Maryland has shown a light on how stakeholder concerns get handled in a facilitated setting. They have been transparent about that discussion and you can read a blow-by-blow, here: http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water/TMDL/TMDLImplementation/Pages/Accounting_For_Growth.aspx.

Accounting for growth (AfG) is all about “development”, or, taking land from a lower valued use and moving it to a higher valued use. Such change is generally assumed to increase environmental harm to the Chesapeake Bay either directly, though higher polluting land use, or indirectly, through the additional pollution generated elsewhere to accommodate the new land use. Since we are putting too much pollution into the Bay at our current level of economic activity, it is implied that along with reducing what we already contribute, we have to worry about what might be added through “development”. In an effort to garner stakeholder input for its AfG policies, the state brought together representatives from agriculture, development, environmental organizations, local government and, ambitiously, representatives of the public interest.

It would be arrogant and foolish to forget that the representatives of each of the stakeholder groups is an accomplished person with ideas of their own about the issues put before them. Still, it would also be foolish to ignore the incentives implicit in their representation. That is, we might expect the development and local government representatives to be less enthusiastic about the imposition of higher costs on future development. We might expect agricultural representatives to be somewhat ambiguous about clamping down on development and we could expect the environmental representatives to want to squeeze down as hard as can be done on developers. If you read their deliberations, that is sort of how it comes out.

The point of all this, to me, is that making policy with all the stakeholders present requires that somebody have a plan for how to achieve the greatest good for the largest number over a longish time horizon. In general, when we are talking about policies that reduce environmental harm, we are talking costs so maybe the goal is the greatest good at the least cost to the entire economy. Without some anchor like that, it is not clear why we shouldn’t expect groups like the AfG workgroup to spiral down into log-rolling (don’t tax you), defensiveness (don’t tax me), and procrastination (tax that fellow behind the tree).

I’m not sure who brought the plan to the AfG workgroup sessions.

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