“ ‘Good tax’ may sound like the ultimate oxymoron at first,” says Luigi Zingales, a professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and author of a new book, A Capitalism for the People. (No, he’s not a Socialist, he’s actually a Libertarian.) He was referring to a Pigovian tax, named after Arthur Pigou, the British economist who invented it.
I caught Zingales last winter on Book Notes, a C-span program, where he said. “We should tax the things we don’t want, such as pollution, and not tax the things we do want, such as income. That caught my attention and I would agree–so much so that I bought the book.
Taxing something that is harmful, such as cigarette smoking, can be mitigated by not using the product. Taxing something that is harmful, such as creating pollution, which is what dumping our dirty rainwater into our drinking water is, can be mitigated by keeping the rain water that falls on our own property in our own property. The tax gives us an incentive to change our ways.
I’ve given you suggestions on how to do this in the past two blogs that I’ve written. Let me refresh your memory:
1. Rain can be harvested, captured in rain barrels or cisterns.
2. Plant a rain garden at the end of your downspouts to infiltrate rainwater from your roof.
3. Build rain channels and/or install rain chains to direct rainwater into decorative pools, waterfalls, or fountains.
4. What used to be referred to as a drainage ditch may become a vegetated swale by planting it with deep-rooted native plants that will absorb much of the rainwater that runs through it.
5. Reduce your lawn to what you need.
6. Plant deep-rooted prairie plants that sponge up moisture and infiltrate rainwater deep into the ground.
7. Install permeable paving to improve rainwater penetration.
8. Consider a green roof to hold rainwater and reduce cooling and heating costs
The original pieces can be found here:
We–businesses, churches, and residences–contribute to the loss of our rainwater by conveying it as quickly as possible through pipes and drainage ditches into creeks, streams, rivers, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico, instead of capturing it for watering our gardens or infiltrating it to recharge our aquifer. We also degrade our river (from which we get our drinking water) by sending contaminants directly into the river, which are not filtered out, from our roofs, driveways and lawns. In 2014, the City of Elgin will be considering charging a fee on all hard surfaces upon a property–roof, driveway, patio, and parking lots–which would be a powerful incentive for property owners to minimize the loss of rainwater. The money received from the fees will be used to pay for the separation of sanitary and storm sewers in some of our older neighborhoods (including mine). I think it can serve both purposes, but the ultimate goal, in my view, should be to eliminate storm water from leaving our property.
Some people call this “taxing Mother Nature”, but it’s not Mother Nature who is causing the problem–it’s all those impervious surfaces that we build that is causing the problem.
This bears repeating:
With a natural groundcover of prairie or savanna, 40% of rainwater will evaporate, 30% will infiltrate deeply into the ground, 30% will infiltrate shallowly, and there will be no runoff.
With a 35-50% impervious surface, 25% of rainwater will evaporate, 20% will infiltrate deeply, 20% will infiltrate shallowly, and 35% will run off.
With a 75-100% impervious surface which is where our commercial areas are, and most of our residential areas with their sleek green lawns are, as well, there is 15% evaporation, 5% deep infiltration, 5% shallow penetration and 75% runoff.
(NEMO Project Fact Sheet #3, Cooperative Extension Center, 1994.)
This isn’t some socialist project dreamed up by President Obama as some people are declaring.
In Germany, many cities charge householders an annual rainwater drainage fee, which is waived if rainwater runoff is harvested or infiltrated into the ground. In Germany, grants and subsidies are available to encourage householders to take steps to minimize their runoff.
Here are a couple of examples from the internet:
Clean River Rewards: Contain the Rain
Clean River Rewards is the Portland stormwater utility’s discount program. With Clean River Rewards, Portland ratepayers can save money and work for clean rivers and healthy watersheds at the same time.
If you manage stormwater on your property, you can receive up to a 100% discount on your on-site stormwater management charges because your actions help protect rivers, streams and groundwater from the damaging effect of stormwater runoff.
Rain barrel and cistern subsidies and rebates
The City of Austin Water Conservation Program distributes over 250 rain barrels per month to homeowners at a subsidized cost, and provides rebates for the installation of approved cistern systems. Commercial/industrial properties can receive rebates up to $40,000 for the installation of rainwater harvesting and greywater systems. New commercial facilities must install a separate irrigation meter costing between $5,000 and $25,000 unless they can provide 100% of all outdoor water needs from alternate water sources such as rain, greywater, and air conditioning condensate. See pages 54 – 55 of the following document online: www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/RainwaterHarvestingManual_3rdedition.pdf