In honor of the UN’s World Water Day, a group of us from the Environmental Finance Center attended last month a performance of the play, “An Enemy of the People,” at Playmakers Theater here on UNC’s beautiful campus. It was well done and featured timeless, dramatic themes such as the struggle of one man’s battle to awaken the conscience of the community, the role of a whistleblower, the struggle to protect one’s family, and more. But the play also revolves around environmental finance and governance themes, which got me to wondering: How might this story (essentially set in nineteenth century Norway) fare differently in our own time and place? What different options for protection of public health and promotion of sustainable finance would governments, utilities, and the people have today, especially in regard to safe, clean water?
Many government-owned wastewater systems in the United States are enterprise funds. That is, they are business-like units within the overall government that should be self-sustaining, taking their revenue from the rates and fees charged to wastewater customers rather than from taxes. Ideally, wastewater utilities base their rates and fees on the full cost of providing wastewater service, not just on operating expenses and routine maintenance costs. Full cost rates and fees would also include taxes and accounting costs, contingencies for emergencies, and, perhaps most importantly, costs related to capital infrastructure—principal and interest on long-term debt and reserves for capital improvement. Continue reading
In the span of a week, Americans witnessed two important days – Tax Day on April 15th, and Earth Day on April 22nd. While we saw many celebrations on Earth Day, on the infamous day that tax forms are due, moods were likely less cheerful as individuals throughout the country struggled to understand and complete a myriad of tax forms. However, perhaps the close proximity of these two important days is appropriate: taxes do play a crucial role in many environmental finance systems. For that reason, at this time of year I often try to relieve my form-fatigue with some reflection on the role taxes play in paying for environmental programs.