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October 01. 2012 8:22PM

Great Bay cleaning: The EPA vs. NH taxpayers

Seacoast “greens” who think the Environmental Protection Agency can do no wrong and businesses can do no right when it comes to protecting the environment must be struggling to decide which side to take in the EPA's effort to impose huge emissions cleanup costs on several Seacoast municipalities.

Four years ago the EPA issued a new nitrogen water quality standard for Dover, Exeter, Newmarket, Portsmouth and Rochester. It requires the municipalities to release no more than 3 micrograms of nitrogen per liter in their treated wastewater. That is the lowest level that any current technology allows. The state's Department of Environmental Services has followed the EPA in requiring the new standard.

Hey, it's all for cleaner water, so why not, right? Because, as the municipalities argue, the government's research connecting higher nitrogen levels in the Great Bay Estuary with lower eelgrass levels might well be flawed. (Eelgrass in coastal waterways provides marine wildlife with an essential habitat.) The communities' own study suggests that the previous decline in eelgrass levels was not caused by nitrogen, and that eelgrass has made a big comeback in the last few years.

Also, the communities say it would cost them $588 million to comply with the 3 micrograms rule. They have proposed dropping their nitrogen emissions to 8 micrograms per liter. That would improve nitrogen levels but save the communities $224 million, they say.

At issue here is not just the science. It is the responsiveness of the EPA. These communities have tried in vain for years to get the EPA to reconsider its order. Its bureaucrats do not care what the costs are. What's $224 million to some Washington bureaucrat who doesn't have to live and pay taxes in Exeter or Portsmouth? (That is why Rep. Frank Guinta has filed legislation to force the EPA to reconsider its rule.)

As these Seacoast communities are finding out, the EPA is a fearsome, cold-hearted master. American businesses have known this for decades. They are subject daily to the EPA's bullying. Environmental activists shrug off business complaints and say greedy capitalists don't care about the planet. But it's not about who cares more. Surely the elected officials of these five Seacoast towns care more about the local water quality than some scientist in Washington does. It's about having a responsive, reasonable government that balances costs and benefits and listens to its people. That's all these communities — and most businesses hit by the EPA's costly decrees — are asking for. It is not an unreasonable request.


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