Fund to pay for 'green' projects

Legislators consider tax on all building surfaces

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and top Democratic leaders have a new idea for raising money to help clean up the state environment: a fee on all new rooftops, driveways and parking lots.

The proposed "Green Fund," unveiled at a news conference in Annapolis yesterday, would generate $130 million a year to pay for state environmental programs if the plan is approved.

When new construction is permitted, a fee would be levied based on those so-called "impervious surfaces."

Projects inside Priority Funding Areas - which are areas targeted for growth - would be assessed at a rate of 25 cents per square foot.

Projects outside the Priority Funding Areas would be charged $2 per square foot.

The idea is to raise money while discouraging growth in inappropriate areas, supporters said.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, called it "smart growth with teeth in it."

A typical single-family home on a quarter-acre lot would be charged about $750 inside a growth area, or $6,000 outside a growth area.

The fees also would apply to commercial and industrial development. Government development would be exempt, as would small residential additions.

Developers could earn reductions in the fees by adding eco-friendly features such as green roofs.

Members of the Home Builders Association of Maryland haven't yet studied the proposal thoroughly enough to decide whether the trade group will oppose it, said association Executive Vice President John Kortecamp.

Mr. Kortecamp is concerned about what the impact will be on builders and their customers, who ultimately will pay the price.

"Obviously, the concern is adding to the cost of housing, which is already out of reach for so many people," he said.

Kim Coble of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said she thinks the fees will cause developers to think about how and where they plan to build.

"What we're hearing from the development community is it does seem to be a remarkably stunning assessment," she said during yesterday's news conference, where she was flanked by more than a dozen Democratic senators and delegates.

The $130 million raised each year would go to a variety of environment programs. The largest chunk will help farmers pay for projects that reduce harmful nutrient pollution, such as raising cover crops in the winter and planting trees along streams.

So far, Maryland is about halfway to its 2010 goal of reducing nitrogen as part of the multi-state effort to clean up the bay.

Too much nitrogen fuels algae blooms, which in turn cause the oxygen-deprived "dead zones" in the bay.

The money from the Green Fund would help Maryland get to 75 percent of the nitrogen goal, Ms. Coble said.

"It brings together the best of good practices for developers and benefits for the bay," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis.

The proposal has support from many Democratic leaders, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and nonprofit groups that represent farmers, gardeners and environmentalists.

Roger Richardson, designee to be the agriculture secretary, said Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration supports the measure.

"Farmers really are the first environmentalists you have in the state," Mr. Richardson said.

Published February 16, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised Feb 2007)