Discussing the weather might once have been an alternative to arguing about politics, but not in Maryland in 2014.
Before the front that brought torrential rains to Maryland Tuesday had even passed, it became the basis for an attack by Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan on Democratic rival Anthony G. Brown. Precipitation had already been at the center of this year's campaign as a result of Republican opposition to the storm water cleanup fees they have dubbed "the rain tax."
On Tuesday evening, after a day that brought flash flooding around the state and broke rainfall records at BWI, the Hogan campaign released a statement charging that the downpour underscored the O'Malley-Brown administration's failure to protect the Chesapeake Bay from "catastrophic releases of polluted sediment from the long-neglected control reservoirs, or ponds, above the Conowingo Dam."
Hogan was referring to a long-running controversy over how much hard the buildup of decades of sediment behind the dam on the Susquehanna River poses to the bay. Hogan considers it the No. 1 threat to the bay -- a view not shared by the Army Corps of Engineers and many environmentalists.
Brown's campaign had no immediate reply.
For Republicans, the dam is a tempting target. If the dam is identified as the leading culprit in fouling the bay, such a decision could justify a lesser emphasis on such pollution sources as agriculture and storm water runoff. Republicans have long been critical of heightened regulation of nutrient runoff from farms, and storm water's role in polluting the bay is at the heart of the debate over the so-called rain tax.
In his statement, Hogan connected those issues.
"When torrential rains hit Pennsylvania and New York State, Marylanders and the Bay’s submerged vegetation and aquatic life pay the price," he said. "For eight years, Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown have concluded it’s easier to levy a rain tax on Maryland’s watermen, farmers and struggling families than fight to protect the Bay from federal and corporate neglect."
In May, Col. J. Richard Jordan, commander of the Corps of Engineers' Baltimore district, told a Senate hearing that dedging only 15 percent of the sediment trapped behind the dam would cost $500 million to $3 billion and produce "very little bang for the buck downstream."
In a statement, Brown campaign manager Justin Schall, said: "After Larry Hogan cuts corporate taxes by $300 million a year, how would he find the $3 billion dollars it costs to dredge the pond? Every time Hogan claims there's nothing Maryland can do to stop climate change, it gets harder to take him seriously on protecting the environment and restoring the bay."
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the most prominent organization promoting bay cleanup in recent decades, has called the issue of sediment behind the dam "a red herring." Brown has won endorsements from such traditional environmental advocates as the Sierra Cluib and the League of Conservation Voters.
Exelon Corp., which owns the dam, is seeking a renewal of its license to operate the facility for another 46 years. That license expires Sept. 1.