Friday, September 10, 2021

Maryland to Siphon from Flush Tax for Trees

 MyEasternShoreMD, New laws take money away from Bay Restoration Fund

New laws went into effect June 1 in Maryland authorizing the withdrawal of money from the Bay Restoration Fund, alarming two Eastern Shore lawmakers who fear a precedent has been set to take from the fund when the source still needs to be tapped for critical wastewater treatment plant upgrades, especially in rural areas.

The BRF is funded by Maryland taxpayers, who pay a fee when connecting to a septic or wastewater system. The money is used for upgrades of wastewater treatment plants statewide, a crucial tool to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.

The Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021 and the Clean Water Commerce Act will take money from the account to fund separate initiatives.

The Tree Solutions Now Act establishes a new program from state and local partners to plant 5 million trees in Maryland by 2031, mostly in urban areas — the biggest effort yet to increase the number of trees in the state. Maryland will dish out $15 million a year through the general budget for the tree-planting program, after a one-time withdrawal from the BRF of the same amount in 2023.

So, it's being spent to plant trees in Baltimore. 

And the Clean Water Commerce Act will redirect $20 million annually from the BRF to support stormwater management and agricultural pollution reduction goals, supporting a slate of small projects to do so.

Wastewater from treatment plants is still one of the highest polluters to waterways and critical areas that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The BRF was established in 2004, and it is funded by a $5 monthly fee for every home connected to a treatment plant. A septic system connection fee is $60 per month.

I think they have that the wrong way around; my community water system (for a community 100% on septic tanks) collects $5 a month from each customer for the BRF, and the annual fee for a system connected to a sewage plant is $60.

The state took in $123 million for the Bay fund last year, and the Maryland Department of the Environment has been averaging about $20 million a year for wastewater treatment plant upgrades statewide. For the 2022 fiscal year, $41 million is slated for upgrades.

When they sold us the BRF (aka "flush tax), it was going to be used to improving sewage systems, mostly municipal systems like Baltimore's (which desperately needs the work), but also in more rural areas like our, on nitrogen reducing septic systems, particularly in critical areas, such as near the Bay and streams. But as you can see, only about 20% is getting spent on wastewater treatment upgrade, but they're planning to up that to, well, less than half. I haven't been able to figure out where the rest goes. 

This is pretty typical in Maryland; a tax is established to fix a particular problem, then slowly but surely politicians see a source of cash, and start appropriating it for their pet projects.

I don't object to Baltimore planting trees; I'm just pissed they're expecting me to fund it.

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