Effluent tax refers to the fee paid by a company to discharge to a sewer. As originally proposed, the fee would have been paid for the privilege of discharging to the environment . However, there is presently no fee structure which allows a company, municipality, or person to contaminate the environment above the levels set by water quality criteria and effluent permits, unless fines levied by a regulatory agency could be deemed to be such fees.
Fees are now charged on the bases of simply being connected to a sewer and the types and levels of materials discharged to the sewer. For example, a municipality might charge all sewer customers the same rate for domestic sewage discharges below a certain flowrate. Customers discharging wastewater at a higher strength and/or flowrate would be assessed an incremental fee proportional to the increased amount of contaminants and/or flow. This charge is often referred to as a sewer charge, fee or surcharge.
There are cases in which wastewater is collected and tested to ensure that it meets certain criteria (e.g., required level of oil or a toxic metal, etc.) before it is discharged to a sewer. If the criteria are exceeded, the wastewater would require pretreatment. Holding the water before discharge is generally only practical when flowrates are low. In other situations, it may not be possible to discharge to a sewer because the treatment facility is unable to treat the waste; for example, many hazardous materials must be managed in a different manner.
Effluent taxes force dischargers to integrate environmental concerns into their economic plans and operational procedures. The fees cause firms and agencies to re-think water conservation policies, waste minimization, processing techniques and additives, and pollution control strategies. Effluent taxes, as originally proposed, might be instituted as an alternative to stringent regulation, but the sentiment of the current public and regulatory agencies is to block any significant degradation of the environment. It appears to be too risky to allow pollution on a fee basis, even when the fees are high. Thus, in the foreseeable future, effluents to the environment will continue to be controlled by means of effluent limits, water quality criteria, and fines. However, the taxing of effluents to a sewer is a viable means of challenging industries to enhance pollution control measures and stabilizing the performance of downstream treatment facilities.
[Gregory D. Boardman ]
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