Volume 12, Issue 12 ~ March 18-24, 2004

Current Issue
Bay Weekly Interview
Bay Life
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Not Just for Kids
Chesapeake Outdoors
Sky Watch
8 Days a Week
Music Notes
Music Preview
Curtain Call
Movie Times
Bay Weekly in Your Mailbox
Print Advertising Rates
Distribution Spots
Behind Bay Weekly
Contact Us

Powered by

Search bayweekly.com
Search WWW


‘Flush Tax’: Seize This Opportunity for Real Progress
A new Environmental Protection Agency report on the condition of coastal waters had this depressing bit of news: Just two of America’s water regions were downgraded from “fair” to “poor” in the last three years: the Northeast and Puerto Rico.

Since the Chesapeake Bay made up 60 percent of the Northeast study area, Marylanders ought to be fighting mad about our Chesapeake’s condition.

Part of the problem is that government agencies refuse to enforce Clean Water laws in this new era of voluntary compliance. Another problem is that with so much of our federal budget earmarked for war-making and tax cuts for the wealthy, there’s no chance soon that the Bay can look forward to the billions in funding already designated for the Florida Everglades and other high-priority projects.

That’s where Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s bright idea nicknamed the flush tax comes in. It proposes to create a pot of money to pay for the most fixable problem, Bay-choking nitrogen pollution. So far, we have been heartened by the General Assembly’s willingness to advance the governor’s plan.

To sum up: The plan adds a $2.50 surcharge to the monthly sewer bills of Marylanders hooked up to sewage treatment plants. It aims to raise $66 million a year for upgrades to the big 66 sewage treatment plants, where an estimated $1 billion in repairs are needed.

The merits of changes to the bill made last week in the House Environmental Matters Committee don’t sell themselves to us so neatly.

Admittedly, those changes are made with good intention. That committee amended Ehrlich’s bill to spread the cleanup charges to more than 400,000 Maryland families and businesses with septic systems, some 50,000 in Anne Arundel County.

The new provision charges septic tank owners eight cents per gallon of waste pumped from their tanks.

The prospect of turning sewage disposal services into tax collectors strikes us as a tad bizarre. And so does a system that might encourage less pumping — and therefore more seeping pollution — in order to avoid the tax.

But we’re most concerned that the problem is way bigger than this solution. For the best- and worst-working septics systems, pumping is an extraordinary event. The best systems filter wastes through neat percolation systems and complex drain fields, dissipating the problem before it reaches ground or surface waters. Not much need to pump there.

The worst systems — and they’re everywhere in the old water-hugging communities of the Bay — are mysteries to everybody, including the county departments of health and planning supposed to regulate them. Pump them? You’ve got to find them first. We’re not kidding.

Seems to us the House solution only scrapes the surface of a huge problem. Look below the surface, and you find that solutions are as elusive as good old septic systems.

Scientists tell us they have the technology to drip and draw nearly all the nitrogen out of sewage in water purification plants. Chesapeake Country isn’t nearly so far along in providing innovative technologies to its septic-served homes and communities so they can share in saving the Bay.

Asked how the homes in one old, waterside community might clean up their dirty ways, one Anne Arundel County planner suggested bulldozing the neighborhood.

We’d like to see the flush tax bring some better thinking to Chesapeake Country in the way of new technologies and help from counties for people willing to spend for upgrading – but not abandon their homes.

One more thing we don’t understand as the flush tax works through the General Assembly is why the new legislation was changed to reduce by nearly 35 percent (from $150,000 to $105,000) the maximum annual flush tax on big industries. Sounds like the folks who could afford the expensive lobbyists got their way.

And did we really need to relax some of the regulatory burdens on farmers to curry their support for this bill, as one of the changes did?

There’s time left in the Senate to craft this vital piece of legislation into a plan that makes all our toilets safe for the Bay.

to the top

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 18, 2004 @ 2:00am.