All three Bay states have trimmed spending on environmental programs in recent years, even as various estimates show that billions of additional dollars are needed to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.
This year, the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania are turning to new fees and taxes to stem recent funding declines for environmental programs. Many of the proposals, if approved by general assemblies—and, in Pennsylvania, by voters—would directly aid in the Bay’s cleanup effort.
In the initiative that may have the greatest single impact on the Bay, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich proposed selling $1 billion in bonds to raise money to upgrade all 66 major wastewater treatment plants to near state-of-the-art levels of nitrogen removal.
“My New Year’s resolution is to do what it takes to achieve a vital, flourishing Chesapeake Bay,” Ehrlich said when announcing the effort in January.
The bonds would be paid off with a $2.50-a-month fee per household, and a surcharge on businesses based on the wastewater they generate. If approved by the General Assembly, it would achieve about one-third of the nitrogen reductions the state needs to meet its 2010 cleanup goals.
Ehrlich also proposed the creation of a nonprofit organization that would raise money from corporations, foundations and individuals for Bay restoration programs. Efforts to restore oysters, Bay grasses and cover crops could be paid for through the fund, which would be administered by the Department of Natural Resources.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell’s budget would create a “Growing Greener II” program, continuing the environmental funding initiative created by former Gov. Tom Ridge.
He called for spending a total of $1.4 billion for environmental protection and cleanup over the next four years, of which $800 million would come from a bond issue which—if approved by the General Assembly—would be on the November ballot.
The bond would be repaid mainly through an increase in tipping fees for waste disposal, including an extra $5 per ton on municipal waste and $4 per ton on industrial waste.
Among the programs that would be funded over the next four years:
- $330 million for farmland and open space protection, improvements at state parks, and upgrades at Fish and Boat Commission and Game Commission facilities.
- $300 million for environmental cleanups, which would include funds to upgrade wastewater treatment plants to control nitrogen; support farm programs that curb runoff; clean up acid mine drainage; clean up brownfield sites; and support clean energy programs.
- $170 million for community revitalization for local parks and recreation.
- $90 million for community redevelopment and housing, including downtown revitalization, historic preservation, and support local planning for smart growth.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner’s two-year, $59 billion budget would increase environment and natural resource funding by $78 million, but the governor said that hinged on the General Assembly going along with more than $1 billion in various tax increases.
Warner noted that Virginia ranks last in the nation in spending on environmental protection. Only .5 percent of the general fund is spent on natural resources. “Without a tax reform effort…these natural resources programs could once again be on the chopping block,” Warner said at a news conference.
Among Warner’s budget proposals were:
- $7.7 million for the Water Quality Improvement Fund, which provides matching grants for nutrient control upgrades at wastewater treatment plants and other efforts to curb water pollution.
- $1 million for water supply planning.
- $30.2 million for preserving open space and improving water quality. The budget would provide a dedicated source of funding for conserving open space and improving water quality by dedicating the current $10 recordation fee imposed on buyers of homes and land.