by Rob Roper
This is how desperate Montpelier is for money: the House Natural Resources Committee is seriously discussing a 5 cent per pound excise tax on coffee. If you’re willing come between Vermonters and our morning coffee – here in the land of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Vermont Coffee Company, and a host of other craft roasting businesses — you must be really desperate for that nickel. It’s safer to get between a mama bear and her cub!
The tax would ostensibly be used to help clean up Lake Champlain, and was justified by David Deen (D-Westminster) because,
According to Deen, wastewater treatment plants are unable to treat urine affected by coffee, because it contains caffeine, so the untreated urine eventually ends up in waterways. Deen said coffee has become “a compound of emerging concern.” (VT Digger, 2/14/17 )
I quoted that directly primarily because I have no idea what it means. But I did try to figure it out. And, as stupid as this tax is as a policy on the surface, its even dumber when you dig into it. This article from Nature, Caffeine Tracks Contamination, explains (and here are some quotes):
Caffeine is an ideal chemical indicator to distinguish domestic water flushed down sinks and toilets from agricultural effluent….
Although sewage treatment removes up to 99.9% of it, caffeine is so abundant and chemically stable that it remains detectable.
Caffeine levels provide a rough estimate of the amounts of household wastewater being washed into a lake, says Buerge – and of accompanying impurities such as detergents and solvents. “IT’S A MIRROR [emphasis added] for these kinds of pollution,” he says.
Caffeine is increasingly being used around the world as A MARKER [emphasis added] of water contamination.
I didn’t find anything that said this caffeine was actually causing any harm (about an hour of Googling, so there may be something out there that says otherwise). But its presence – detectible because of its unique chemical properties — is rather ALERTING scientists to the places where genuinely dangerous pollution is occurring. The things that are genuinely harmful, such as pharmaceuticals, raw sewage, phosphorus from detergents, etc., are for some reason immune from taxation by Rep. Deen and his colleagues. Great thinking!
So, when you pee out our morning coffee do so proudly because you are performing a public service, helping scientists to detect real polution in our waterways. Personally, I think we should be able to write off 5 cents a cup on our taxes as compensation for this important scientific contribution to the monitoring our water quality.
- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute