A Maryland advisory commission is proposing to triple state's “flush fee” to upgrade sewage treatment plants and take other important steps to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The rate for most homeowners and businesses would rise from $2.50 per month, to $5.00 monthly next year, and $7.50 by 2015, according to a recommendation of Governor Martin O’Malley’s Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal.
The increase would help close a more than $530 million shortfall for sewage plant improvements that have been planned since 2004 as part of a bipartisan law called the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. And the additional fees would also help pay for some (but not all) of the stormwater pollution reductions needed to meet a new federal pollution “diet” (EPA pollution limits) intended to reduce water pollution in the nation's largest estuary by about 25 percent by 2025. (O’Malley had initially pledged to meet these new pollution limits by 2020, but the task force yesterday suggested 2025 would be more realistic).
Over the last six years, the "flush fee" has worked to upgrade 23 of Maryland’s sewage treatment plants and dramatically reduce their nitrogen pollution. But another 44 of the state's largest sewage plants still need to be upgraded, and the "flush fee" fund is running out of money, before improvements to Baltimore's Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant and others have been completed, according to a state report released last January.
Now, let’s be honest: most of us do not like to pay higher fees for anything. That’s human nature. But the thing to remember is that the money raised by this fee increase won’t just get flushed down the drain or evaporate into thin air. Most of the the funds will be used in a proven, highly successful, six-year-old program to modernize sewage treatment plants that creates lots of construction and engineering jobs even as it cleans up the Bay.
Think about it: Would you mind paying another $2.50 a month –- about the cost of a bag of almonds and Coke at your local Seven Eleven -- if you knew the money was going to put a construction worker back to work? Perhaps some guy (or gal) with young kids who has been unemployed since the collapse of the housing industry? That would be money well spent.
That may sound like a stretch. But, in fact, on Monday I met a construction worker exactly like this at a sewage treatment plant this week in Lorton, Virginia.
He is Brandon Stevens, a 27-year-old home builder and father of a three-year-old girl (with a second child on the way). He was laid off and desperate –- until he got an even better job (paying $19 per hour instead of $12 per hour), spraying a caulk-like substance to seal cracks in an old sewage treatment tank that is being fixed up.
“I’m happier than ever, and glad to be making a difference for the environment,” said Stevens, during a break in his work at the sewage plant. “It was really hard being a father without a paycheck or money. But this job is helping the economy and our water quality at the same time.”
Projects like this, in Maryland and Virginia and elsewhere, are not liberal “green” fantasies. They are dollars from taxpayers being well invested to improve America.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo at top of sewage plant by author)