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Senators criticize septics regulation proposal

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland senators on Monday criticized regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment last month that would require the use of best available technology for nitrogen removal septic systems in new construction on land draining to the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Coastal Bays watershed.

The matter came up during debate during a special session that has been called to address budget matters.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, proposed an amendment to require legislative approval of the regulations. The proposal could have been taken up while lawmakers were debating septics legislation during the regular 90-day session that ended last month, he said. Instead, the department announced the regulations April 27, nearly two weeks after lawmakers adjourned.

“They deliberately want to bypass any supervision here,” Brinkley said.

The proposed regulations irked senators, because the Senate rejected a similar proposal two years ago.

Brinkley’s amendment failed 16-29. However, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller described the proposed regulations as “disrespectful to the Senate.”

Miller said he didn’t believe the majority of senators believed the matter should be addressed in budget legislation. Still, the Senate president said the proposed regulations will be taken up before a legislative committee assigned to review regulations or in January, when lawmakers convene for their next regular legislative session.

“I would like to think it was a bureaucratic decision, not a decision by either Mr. Bryce or by the governor,” Miller, D-Calvert, said, referring to Gov. Martin O’Malley and his chief legislative officer, Joe Bryce. “But it was inappropriate. That’s for certain.”

Robert Summers, the secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the department was following through with a recommendation made by a task force that studied the septics issue, a panel that included lawmakers and stakeholders.

“Maryland law already gives the department authority to take actions that are needed to protect water quality and these regs are being proposed under that authority,” Summers said.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, noted that the best available technology issue was raised during the discussion on septic system legislation during the regular session. He also said the administration has the authority to issue the regulations.

“If we say that we’re going to try to stop each one of those, then really we should be taking an up or down vote on the Administrative Procedures Act and whether it’s constitutional or not,” Pinsky said. “So far, it’s proven to be constitutional.”

Current state regulations require nitrogen removal technology for all new and replacement septic systems in the state’s Critical Area, land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters or wetlands.

The proposed regulation has been sent for approval to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.