Letter to the Editor: There are better methods to protect lake
Sen. Bray’s idea to introduce a “per parcel” fee on property owners in order to clean up the lake is unfortunate. Unfortunate because it proposes to heap more financial burden on property owners and disappointing because it may be the best economic proposal floated to date. The funding mechanism is simple and direct, uses existing revenue collection methods to gather the money and it uses the money for a targeted end use. Which begs the question, “What’s wrong with it?” We need to look upstream to find the answer.
First of all, the solution to the stated problem is based on the recommendation of an “advisory council” answering to Montpelier that proposes in part to solve the problem by “commoditizing” the targeted pollutant (phosphorus). Second, it proposes to empower a regulatory authority to solve the stated problem through regulation, which, like the first issue, builds a conflict of interest right into the middle of the problem-solving equation. In other words it proposes to generate revenue from the problem it is supposed to be solving, pretty much ensuring the problem never goes away for one reason or another. In a practical way the regulatory authority perpetuates its own existence at everyone else’s expense. Worse, the proposal builds an impenetrable political wall between the very constituents that need to cooperate for its success. And that is a slippery slope.
Perhaps what makes more sense is to use Sen. Bray’s idea as short-term bridge funding mechanism, a dedicated revenue stream to jump start sustainable, affordable and innovative solutions using local resources that take advantage of our most valuable regional commodities; land, water, minerals, biomass, and people, the most important of these are local folks using good ol’ Yankee ingenuity. If we must use the monetized system as a fallback to jump start viable economic solutions we will need to stand the conventional thinking on its head. One way to do this is to actually pay the constituents targeted by the proposed regulations to solve the problem rather than to create another regulated administrative welfare system in Montpelier. In other words, if half the phosphorus problem originates on farms let’s pay the farmers to solve the problem rather than regulate them out of existence. If the other half of the problem originates in more urban environments let those constituents solve the problem on a local level, deploying the most innovative and economically sound solutions. If this requires start-up funding, dedicate the funds.
We need to be creative. There are very simple and effective nutrient management methods being practiced right now in various regions of the country (including Vermont), using regional and local resources in economic supplies, which will not only solve the phosphorus problem but will reduce other pollutants as well, including CO2, N2O and CH4, with the added benefit that the land manager (or waste water treatment facility) increases their bottom line by practicing these methods! These methods solve the phosphorus problem while capturing carbon, reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions and it pays for itself very quickly through the economic engine of success. Intractable global problems such as mitigating global warming will be solved this way through the same nutrient management techniques. In short, for every dollar raised through fees or taxes in the name of clean air and water, a dollar should go directly to those constituents who are actually in a position to mitigate the problem and are doing so at the least expense to themselves and the taxpayers — i.e., deploying the most practical and effective methods — right away. Not in 20 years. Right Now!
What are we seeing instead? Party politics, no real workable solution to the problem of phosphorus pollution (or global warming) in the context of practical nutrient management, all the while the governing agencies are left to their own devices to make their own rules and then lawyer up to defend them. That is a recipe for failure, wrong action, and the end of good neighborly relations. Regardless of the good intentions and political courage of our veteran legislators such as Sen. Bray, anyone who believes that workable environmental solutions will be formulated by a bureaucracy incapacitated by monetized thought and justifying their own existence at everyone else’s expense may have another thing coming.