Environmental groups pushing to keep stormwater fees in place

ANNAPOLIS, Md - Area environmental groups are pushing Maryland lawmakers to defend stormwater remediation fees , which they say has already had positive pollution-mitigation results.

The fees, which critics have dubbed "the rain tax," is required in Maryland's 10 largest jurisdictions to fund pollution-reducing projects to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.

Advocates of the fee note efforts such as new practices by places of worship in Howard County that reduce runoff and the creation of a new restoration grant program in Prince George's County that the fees are working. The advocates are urging legislators not to go backwards and undo environmental protections that benefit families and communities.

"Sadly, in an election year, political opportunists are trying to scare the public with absurd talk of a tax on rain," said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a statement. "They are either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead their constituents."

Debate over the fees is expected to be one of the biggest issues facing state lawmakers during the current 90-day General Assembly. Some critics of the fee say they are unnecessary while others believe there are deep inequities with the implementation of the law.

The state legislation passed in 2012 requiring the fees – which went into effect July 1, 2013 – allows individual jurisdictions to set their own fees. For example, Carroll County has opted to not charge a fee and use existing funds while other counties like Howard and Baltimore have established a system where the fees can range from less than $40 for households to several thousand dollars for some businesses.

Del. John Olszewski Jr. (D-Baltimore County) supports the fee because of the federal mandate, but will push for changes in the legislation, including finding ways for property owners to receive up to a 100 percent credit for taking proper remediation efforts.

"This fee does place a huge tax burden on many businesses," Olszewski said. "We need to help make this effort more equitable. Also, if property owners do enough to eliminate runoff then they should be exempt from the fee since that is the ultimate purpose of the legislation."

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