Opinion: Tax Polluters, Invest in Innovation to Clean Bay and Earth

Dead Zone
NOAA photo

Maryland’s more than 30-year efforts to repair the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries has taken time, resources, and a general commitment from the public. Even with our efforts, oysters, crabs, sturgeon, and rockfish populations remain terribly low compared to historic numbers.

Pollution from Pennsylvania and New York continues to seep into our Bay without consequence. Bay water clarity has also not made it to desired levels.

Despite not reaching our ultimate goals, we have made considerable progress. While we must continue fighting to save the Bay, now our efforts must extend beyond Maryland’s borders to focus also on global environmental concerns.

Maryland should lead the world on environmental policy initiatives. We should treat environmental policy as a driver to create independent renewable energy systems, a vibrant economy with green jobs, and life-sustaining infrastructure for the remainder of human life on the planet.

Levying a carbon tax on oil and natural gas producers can offer an opportunity to raise revenue to directly fund environmental projects. The levy could be assessed at the time of extraction, importation, or use.

Maryland should implement a tax based on general emissions in the state, which according to the Maryland Department of the Environment was roughly 140 Million Metric Tons in 2020.

Such a tax, at $40 per metric-ton, could raise $5.6 billion annually that Maryland could use to directly fund environmental projects.

In FY2020, $1.6 billion was spent by the federal government and states in the Bay watershed for its cleanup. With an emissions tax providing additional funding, Maryland’s future spending could be more than triple what all Bay states and the federal government spent in that year.

Creation of a Maryland Carbon Tax would be a great way to begin to penalize polluters, create incentives for companies to switch to fuel systems that are carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, and allow the State to invest in environmental projects until carbon pollution ends.

In addition to implementation of a carbon tax, technology currently exists to pull carbon dioxide out of the air entirely. In 2019, MIT engineers developed a device that can eliminate carbon when it is attached a vehicle, plane, or other carbon producing machine.

Properly scaled, technology could bring the atmosphere back to preindustrial carbon dioxide levels within 40 years, according to scientists at the company Verdox, founded by those engineers. Verdox, is seeking a state partner to pilot a large-scale program. Doing a sample study of the Verdox technology throughout the state of Maryland could be a great opportunity to test it and, if it succeeds, promote it around the world.

There is not a single thing our government should be investing in more than the protection and rehabilitation of our environment. It behooves us to answer the challenge of our time, protect future generations, and solve the climate crisis. It is time for our State leaders to do what their titles denote — lead.

— JASON T. FOWLER

The writer is a lawyer who lives in Calvert County. He was the 2018 Democratic nominee for the District 27C seat in the House of Delegates.