Counties and Municipalities Oppose Increased Sewage Fines

A February 13 Baltimore Sun blog post discussed MACo’s and MML’s opposition to a pair of bills (SB 289 and SB 302) that would increase civil and administrative fines for sewage overflows from wastewater treatment plants.  Proponents of the bills argued that the fines are necessary to prevent pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and waterways.  Opponents argued that the fines are levied by one level of government on another level of government without adequate procedural protections and that instead of the money going towards fixing the problem, the money goes to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

SB 289 was introduced by Senator Bryan Simonaire and SB 302 was introduced by Senators Barry Glassman and Simonaire.  From the blog post:

Simonaire explained to his fellow members of the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee that he introduced the bills out of frustration with regular reports of sewage overflows, sewer line ruptures and wastewater treatment plant malfunctions that he said resulted iln [sic] “hundreds of millions of gallons going into our local water ways.”  …

Glassman said stiffer penalties and more publicity of sewage spills seemed only fair when the state is cracking down on septic systems and tightening regulations of farmers.  …

But representatives of the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League, whose members operate sewage plants, opposed the increases, arguing that such penalties lead to higher taxes or fees for local taxpayers or reduced government services.

“We’re already struggling with our wastewater treatment plants…with no help from the state,” said Candace Donoho, legislative director for the municipal league.   She and Leslie Knapp of the counties group contended that the state already is plenty aggressive about fining local governments for sewage spills.

Donoho said municipal officials complain the fines they have to pay just go into an MDE “slush fund” and that any increase in penalties would do nothing more than generate more revenue for the state.