The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Water pollution:
Another governor's hand in the little guy's pockets

Jan 19, 2004

The governor of Maryland has just proposed a $30 per year fee on every home-owning family in Maryland, supposedly to pay for upgrades to sewage treatment plants. So this extra fee comes on top of raises already passed in some Maryland jurisdictions to increase water and sewage fees. In four years, the average family is paying 50% more in Baltimore City, where a billion dollars worth of repairs are needed for the aging water and sewage system. And it comes on top of our regular taxes, which are supposedly collected to cover things like sewage, roads, schools, fire, etc.

It's certainly true that sewage pollutes the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Twenty years ago, politicians from six jurisdictions, including the states of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, acknowledged the considerable pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and pledged to reduce it.

This summer, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation reported that the situation is worse. Forty% of the bay is dead – spots where nothing can grow, which is not only bad news for fish but also for people who fish, who swim, who boat or who like to breathe clean air.

Where does the pollution killing the Bay come from? Perhaps 20% of the pollution comes from water and sewage treatment. But twice that much – 40% – of the pollution comes from agribusiness, especially the nitrogen and phosphorus from chicken manure waste on the Delmarva peninsula. And another 40% comes from new construction and the consequences of real estate development. But those interests – agribusiness and real estate – are not the ones in line to pay new fees.

Delmarva, which stands for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, is home to a multi-billion dollar industry, producing more than three billion pounds of chickens per year. Following an outbreak of toxic pfisteria in 1997, the state of Maryland required agriculture to begin to change methods of dealing with nitrogen and phosphorus waste, which was running off the land and into the water, contributing greatly to the pollution and dead spots in the Chesapeake Bay. But this requirement was directed only to small farmers, not to the big poultry companies.

The current governor says he will ease the rules for the farmers. However, neither this governor nor the last one has ever talked about rules and regulations for the poultry companies, which employ more than twice as many people as the small farmers.

This enormous agribusiness – companies like Perdue and Tyson – have passed their chicken waste problem on to the farmers. The chicks are owned by the companies, but grown to the point of slaughter by the farmers. The corporations determine what the chickens are fed, and how they live, how long till they die, what price is paid wholesale for broilers and roasters. But the waste problem of nitrogen and phosphorus, densely produced because of the way the companies set up the industry, is left in the hands of the small farmers.

While the politicians produce sound bites for the evening news on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, in reality they make the little guys pay. Meanwhile the big guys, the agribusinesses and real estate interests that make all the money, dump dirty polluted water all over us – and pay nothing.