The bay can't wait

March 29, 2007

The Green Fund has run into a red light.

An innovative proposal for raising public money needed to curb polluting runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, which passed the House of Delegates last week 96-41, has been abruptly halted in the Senate. Like other revenue measures, the Green Fund bill is being held hostage by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in his campaign for a broader budget package that includes approval for slots.

But the bay has no more time to wait for politics to catch up to the reality of its desperate state. Summer dead zones encompass one-third of the bay. Crab harvests are down; oyster harvests are minuscule; fish are sick, dying or deformed. Swimmers entering the bay at such popular beaches as Sandy Point State Park run the risk of bacterial infections - if the beaches are open at all.

Mr. Miller should join Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch in backing legislation that would raise an estimated $130 million a year to reverse bay deterioration as soon as possible.

The Green Fund proposal, drafted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and championed in the House by Baltimore Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, would impose a fee on new development in the state based on the size of surfaces impervious to rainwater, such as roofs, roadways and parking lots.

Developers would pass along the fee to homebuyers. But it would be capped at $1,500 per home, and fees could be reduced by as much as 75 percent if developers use techniques to allow rainwater to be absorbed in the soil rather than wash into nearby streams, and ultimately the bay.

Exemptions are included for low-income housing, job creation ventures financed with help from state or local governments, and small projects, such as backyard sheds.

Nearly a third of the money collected would go to counties to help finance shoreline improvements along bay tributaries and Smart Growth programs. Almost half of the rest would go to farmers to help them pay for cover crops and other techniques to keep nitrogen out of the bay.

Enactment of the bill this year would not appreciably weaken Senator Miller's hand in negotiations over a broader package of slots and taxes. But it would appreciably strengthen Maryland's chances of keeping its promise to eliminate 20 million pounds of nitrogen pollution a year by 2010.

The Senate should quickly give the green light to the Green Fund. Time's a-wasting.

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