Posted by Erik Michelsen.
Late last year, when Maryland turned in its roadmap for cleaning up the Chesapeake to the federal government, many of us held out considerable hope that it would not only detail strategies for how we, collectively, are going to clean up our portion of the Bay’s pollutants, but also clearly articulate the ways that the state would finance this multi-billion dollar initiative. Unfortunately, the strategy that Maryland presented to the EPA represents more deferral and delay, rather that the leadership we had hoped for, pushing off difficult decisions into the future rather than taking action now.
Maryland has set an ambitious deadline of 2020 – five years before it is required to do so – for having all of the practices in place in order to achieve Bay clean-up. The Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) submitted on December 3rd, estimates that meeting the implementation of 70% of these practices by 2017 could cost as much as $10 billion statewide. The bulk of these costs fall into three primary areas: First, the continued upgrade of wastewater treatment plants, conversion of conventional septics, and enhancement of wastewater infrastructure (approximately $ 5 billion); second, the repair or restoration of stormwater related damage throughout the state (approximately $ 4 billion); and third, the upgrade of coal-fired power plants to reduce airborne nutrient pollution (between $1.8 and 3 billion). These numbers add up quickly and can become staggering when taken as a whole, particularly when these estimates appear pretty rosy in comparison to some locally-derived figures.
However, that’s no reason for delay, quite the contrary. For, if legislators in Maryland had gotten serious about this effort almost 40 years ago, when the Clean Water Act went into effect, we could have spent around $25 million/year and now be looking at a clean Chesapeake Bay. Instead, in addition to the $1.2 billion structural deficit the State faces, it now also faces a $1.4 billion environmental deficit each year through 2017, and according to the WIP, appears to have chosen to punt on doing anything substantial in 2011.
The environmental community and a number of other stakeholders stand united in asking both the administration and the legislature to step up to marshal the necessary resources to get this Bay clean-up effort underway now. That will involve increasing the Bay Restoration Fee – the so-called “Flush Tax” – so that wastewater treatment plants statewide can continue being upgraded in a timely and efficient fashion. It will also involve requiring local governments to put in place “stormwater utilities”, dedicated funding sources, based on impervious surface fees, that each jurisdiction can use to repair and restore the damage that has occurred to the streams, creeks, and rivers feeding the Bay. Each of these revenue sources will help create new, “green” jobs throughout the state, and will clean up local waterways in addition to the Chesapeake.
If the State and local governments fail to start taking the necessary steps to clean up the Bay, as they have done for decades, they risk fines and penalties, and EPA could potentially require “backstop” measures that could have serious impacts on growth and development for years to come. In a year of many difficult decisions, starting to get serious about the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay should be an easy one. Let’s see some leadership. Let’s stop talking about clean water and start fighting for it.