Funding Fight: New Laws Take Money From Bay Restoration Fund | News

Funding Fight: New Laws Take Money From Bay Restoration Fund |  News

Two “non-significant” wastewater treatment plants will be upgraded in the coming fiscal year, according to MDE’s May 2021 report on pollution reduction goals. The state took in $123 million for the Bay fund last year, and the Maryland Department of the Environment has been averaging about $20 million a year for wastewater treatment plant upgrades statewide. For the 2022 fiscal year, $41 million is slated for upgrades. MDE said critical upgrades for plants will still be available even with the new acts withdrawing some money from the fund, an argument made by advocates who said there is a surplus in the account.

And the Clean Water Commerce Act will redirect $20 million annually from the BRF to support stormwater management and agricultural pollution reduction goals, supporting a slate of small projects to do so. The Tree Solutions Now Act establishes a new program from state and local partners to inevitably plant 5 million trees in Maryland by 2031, mostly in urban areas — the biggest effort yet to increase the number of trees in the state. Maryland will dish out $15 million a year through the general budget for the tree-planting program, after a one-time withdrawal from the BRF of the same amount in 2023.

Wastewater from treatment plants is still one of the highest polluters to waterways and critical areas that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The BRF was established in 2004, and it is funded by a $5 monthly fee for every home connected to a treatment plant. A septic system connection fee is $60 per month. The new Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021 and the Clean Water Commerce Act will now take money from the account to fund separate initiatives, although backers say the new laws do help with environmental sustainability and pollution reduction.

The two new laws were passed in an effort to help the state meet its goals. The more contentious of the two laws is the Tree Solutions Now Act, which was sponsored by Del. Jim Gilchrist, D-Montgomery County, in the state House of Delegates. Starting in 2023, $10 million will be awarded each year to state agencies, local municipalities and environmental organizations that apply to the tree planting program through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which will administer the funds. Stormwater is a major pollutant along with agricultural operations and wastewater plants, and environmental advocates are pivoting to stronger initiatives that work to reduce runoffs in that sector.

With a deadline to meet pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay just around the corner, the state has been stepping up its environmental commitments. Maryland needs to reduce an additional 5 million pounds of nitrogen and 100,000 pounds of phosphorus by 2025, but has met only 48% of its nitrogen goals and 57% of phosphorous commitments, according to a 2021 state report. “Neither of these bills will impact funding for upgrades, as they continue to take highest priority in state law,” said Jay Apperson, a communications spokesperson for MDE.

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