Maryland's BayStat website recently posted news about the Bay 2010 Trust Fund and an invitation for select groups to offer bids for "Local Implementation Grants." These grants are basically for finding innovative ways to restore the Chesapeake and Atlantic coastal bays.
To an interested party such as myself, this news is generally good. The funds are targeted at redressing past failures and finding cost-efficient and adaptive policies and practices. They appear to be aimed at finding a rational way for a more serious effort to fix what ails the Bay.
The wording on the website speaks of reaching out to a wider community to achieve restoration goals for the Bay. But alas, there is a small catch.
After describing what is to be pursued with the 2010 Trust Fund and characterizing this as bold and innovative change, the announcement notes that the 2010 Trust Fund is seeking proposals from "local governments and non- governmental organizations, incl suding; county agencies, municipalities, forest conservancy district boards, soil conservation districts, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations having a demonstrated ability to implement non-point source pollution control projects." The announcement goes on to note that: "Priority will be given to multi-party applications that include their local government partner."
In my experience of the past 20 years with the Bay restoration effort, the technical capacity of county agencies and municipalities in Maryland has been highly variable. The larger and better-endowed municipalities and counties tend to be able to employ environmental protection and resource conservation staff with considerably more capability than smaller, less well-funded ones.
But I am not at all sure how well-placed any of those folks are to propose effective and sustainable pollution reduction innovations. And, while I have never come across a "nonprofit organization having a demonstrated ability to implement non- point pollution control projects," that does not mean that they don't exist.
Certainly, there is considerable capacity in Maryland's academic institutions to answer carefully framed questions. And our forest conservancy boards have some capability with regard to forest management issues. Soil conservation districts know a lot about conserving soil resources. But I would be surprised if either of the latter two systems had many new ideas for using $600,000 to $5 million to optimally reduce nonpoint nutrient pollution in a meaningful way.
My point here is, what about the private sector? For full disclosure, I have to note that I am the owner of a small private enterprise that provides environmental economics research services. So, why is my firm excluded from offering a proposal for using 2010 Trust Fund resources? Is it the profit motive that disqualifies my company? Because, as far as that goes, Main Street Economics does not have much in the way of profit and our staff are not remunerated at a higher rate than comparable academic, public sector or nonprofit staff.
What disqualifies me or any other privately owned business from making a contribution to the goals of the 2010 Trust Fund; other than this rule?
Although I clearly have a material interest in this question, there are good reasons for all of us to be concerned about limits on private sector participation in the optimization of 2010 Trust Fund resources.
First, there is a great deal of talent in the private sector. What is so odious about people working for a business that it is necessary to exclude all that talent from getting paid to help restore the Bay?
Secondly, if public sector, academic and not-for-profit entities are sufficient for solving the problem, why haven't they done it yet? A follow-up question would be, what's so innovative about giving all the funding to the same old crowd?
Thirdly, in addition to environmental start-ups like Main Street Economics, there are any number of legal consultancies, environmental engineering firms, land use planning consulting firms and so on, who work in the very closely related area of economic development.
Development as we have known it is a major source of the Chesapeake Bay's problems. But most of the firms in those industries have their bread buttered by the economic interests sponsoring greater development. I don't mean any disrespect for the work that those firms do, but to the extent that they are being hired to make something happen, their work is probably driven more by economic incentives than a search for "spirit-of-the-law" legal compliance.
What if those firms had another client? One who had resources to apply toward minimizing nutrient pollution in the Bay?
I am happy that there is a Chesapeake and Atlantic Bays 2010 Trust Fund aimed at making our efforts to restore the Bay more successful. I hope that some innovative and useful ideas grow from it.
But it is not at all clear to me what benefit is served by excluding private sector talent from this important work.