Larry Hogan's big fish story

Next, Larry Hogan will claim to have walked across the Chesapeake Bay.

One expects a certain amount of bluster and prevarication from politicians. It's all part of telling an audience whatever they want to hear. As H.L. Mencken once noted, "if a politician observed he had cannibals among his constituents, he'd promise them missionaries for dinner."

But sometimes the exaggerations and outright falsehoods of elected officials reach jaw-dropping proportions. The claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bill Clinton's recollection of a chaste relationship with Monica Lewinsky or Richard Nixon's utterances on most anything related to Watergate, to name a few examples.

Now comes an early contender for Political Chutzpah of the Year Award, or at least the Maryland edition of that dubious honor: Gov. Larry Hogan says he's done more for the Chesapeake Bay in his first 60 days in office than Martin O'Malley accomplished in eight years as governor.

On some level you have to admire the breathtaking level of braggadocio delivered (by all accounts with a straight face) during an appearance Tuesday before a meeting of the Maryland Business for Responsive Government. The conservative business group is not exactly known as a bunch of tree-huggers, so the governor could at least be confident they wouldn't start booing. Indeed, the bizarre political pronouncement is something of MBRG's stock in trade, as some may recall Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. telling them more than a decade ago during a similar get together to press their interests and "be dangerous" with lawmakers in Annapolis.

But Mr. Hogan's claim rises above Mr. Ehrlich's instructions for sheer audacity. After all, here's what it's based on: his decision to support a compromise on rules limiting excess phosphorus runoff from farms, much of it originating from chicken manure used as fertilizer. And, apparently to a lesser extent, he's proud of his support for a Senate version of a "repeal" of the modest fee 10 Maryland subdivisions have been required to assess to finance efforts to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff, something he's disparagingly labeled the "rain tax."

What wasn't mentioned was that the phosphorus rules only came into play when he pulled Mr. O'Malley's stricter version of them from the books. Had he done nothing, stronger rules would actually be in place today. As for the "rain tax," the logic of how the Senate bill accomplishes much for Marylanders, one way or the other, is frankly lost on us. These same subdivisions are already on the hook to spend the money on federally-mandated stormwater infrastructure and related remedies — and already have the option of not charging a fee if they can finance those improvements through other means. Even so, it's better than the stormwater fee repeal Mr. Hogan included in his own legislative package.

So here's the best thing that can be said about Mr. Hogan's accomplishments on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay: He could be worse. (And frankly, given his rain tax rhetoric and obsession with the Conowingo Dam's perceived contributions to water pollution during last year's campaign, a lot of people were braced for worse.) That leaves Mr. O'Malley's two terms as governor. So how did that guy do?

In short, pretty darn well. During his time in office, he strengthened Maryland's "smart growth" limits on sprawl, set restrictions on large developments using septic systems, greatly expanded efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants, reached an agreement with Virginia to enforce badly-needed curbs on the blue crab harvest, boosted aquaculture in the bay and established new laws reducing air pollution from sources like power plants and cars and promoting clean energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (all of which yield substantial benefits for clean water, too).

Oh, and Mr. O'Malley proudly supported that "rain tax" business as well — not because it gave him money to spend (it has produced not a dime for the state budget) but because Baltimore and the nine counties involved needed the means to comply with federally-mandated pollution controls. And they still do.

We congratulate Mr. Hogan for his willingness to compromise on phosphorus (the irony of which being that it was Mr. O'Malley's reluctance to impose the rules on farmers that delayed their adoption for years and left them within Mr. Hogan's grasp) and seek greater cooperation from the agricultural community. If there is any way to make sense of what he said, it's to interpret him to mean that he has done a better job of reaching a consensus between farmers and environmentalists than Mr. O'Malley did, at least in this one instance. But in the big picture — within the context of the enormous undertaking that is required to save the Chesapeake Bay — his contribution over the last 60 days is minuscule at best, particularly compared to his predecessor's over eight years.

But we'll give him this much: If he wants to outdo Mr. O'Malley on such an important environmental cause, we will give him our enthusiastic support — as not doubt will the majority of Marylanders (although we can't speak for MBRG) of whatever political stripe.

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