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Annapolis: A city of wasteful crusaders

When Gov. Martin O’Malley took the podium in the marble-flanked House of Delegates chamber of the Maryland State House for his fifth annual State of the State speech earlier this month, almost everyone had a pretty good idea of what he would say. After all, for nearly a year he had been on the campaign trail regurgitating his accomplishments in his fight for a second term. And as is often the case with “state of” speeches, it would highlight these.

And indeed many predictions held true: O’Malley talked about moving Maryland forward, job creation through investment in technology, education, infrastructure and the long list of other progressive policies he has built his political career on.

But about halfway through the speech, which O’Malley seemed eager to finish, things took a bizarre turn. Introducing what many presumed to be a conventional section on protecting the environment, O’Malley turned to the topic of shit — quite literally.

Having just finished talking about “cyber-infrastructure,” O’Malley proposed a total ban on sewage septic systems in new housing developments consisting of six or more homes. In a speech that was already in the red for applause lines, this gem was met with the sound of crickets.

Despite the fact that these systems, which are common in rural areas, contribute to only 8 percent of the total pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, O’Malley was adamant: These miniature sewage treatment systems have no role in a modern Maryland and must be banned. “We are up to this,” he passionately declared, as if talking about overhauling health care or some other major legislative proposal and not the topic of crap.

The proposal was random, and when O’Malley moved on to discussing the economy it seemed his strange assail against septic tanks would soon be forgotten.

But sure enough, it wasn’t. Republicans have actually engaged, with some top lawmakers criticizing the proposal and claiming it would curb development in rural areas such as the Eastern Shore. Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) pounced on the plan, later telling O’Malley to his face that “those two careless sentences [have] wiped out a trillion dollars of land value in rural Maryland.” Indeed, the issue of human waste canisters, which contribute only a fraction of the amount of water pollution as agricultural runoff, have become one of the state’s most volatile political issues — a true reflection of the times we live in. It seems not even the bills that would legalize gay marriage in the state have garnered as much actual debate.

Not surprisingly, there are few truly passionate about septic tanks. And perhaps even more obvious, there are few who would get as worked up over such a non-issue as our great leaders in Annapolis.

However, the issue of septic tanks is one that must be addressed, not because of its detriment to our health and society, but because the focus on such a small-fry issue ignores the many other problems facing the state, such as a brooding unemployment rate of about 7 percent and serious budget cuts, as well as the major culprits of Bay pollution, including waste from poultry farms located on the shore, where chickens outnumber people 1,000 to one. And yet septic tanks have become public enemy no. 1, with O’Malley’s staff finalizing a bill for the legislature last week and rural Republicans digging their heals in.

At the end of his speech, O’Malley declared that everything has a cost. “Inaction has a huge cost,” he said, looking out over the General Assembly. “Consumption has a cost. Failing to make decisions that are consistent with the best interests of the next generation, this too has a cost.”

And mulling over insignificant issues has a cost. After all, we’ve got other shit to worry about.

Justin Snow is a senior history major. He can be reached at snow at umdbk dot com.

Originally published in The Diamondback.

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