Green fund reborn

November 14, 2007

Anew fund dedicated to Chesapeake Bay cleanup that was written off just days ago as the General Assembly focused on slots and other issues has been renamed, redesigned, refinanced and resurrected for approval by the legislature before its special session ends.

Not all the changes are improvements; the financing method approved by the Senate is particularly troubling. But the policy measure crafted by the House Environmental Matters Committee and scheduled to come up for full House approval today is a solid advance in what sometimes seems the losing cause of reversing the pollution that is choking the bay to death.

Given the context of a state government working frantically to raise taxes and cut spending in order to fill a huge budget deficit, the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund 2010 - a name Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller prefers to Green Fund - puts the environment near the top of state priorities, where it belongs. The House should handily approve the bill today, and the Senate should swiftly follow.

Under the legislation, $50 million already set aside by both chambers would be directed toward efforts to curb non-point source pollution, which is basically rainwater running off city streets, suburban shopping malls and rural fields that washes harmful chemicals, nutrients and sediment into the bay and its tributaries.

Money would go to state, county and municipal agencies but mostly would be applied to specific projects according to plans developed on an annual basis through BayStat, Gov. Martin O'Malley's program for targeting bay spending and measuring results.

The best plan for financing came from Baltimore Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, who proposed that the fund be financed by a tax per square foot of parking lots as well as about $20 a year for homeowners, which would reflect paved surfaces impervious to rain. The House chose instead a tax on car rentals: not perfect, but preferable to Senate plans to divert funds from Program Open Space, a critical environmental tool robbed too often in recent years. No matter what they call it or how they pay for it, though, the policy is good and long overdue.

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