Bay Journal Article Examines Stormwater Fee Backlash and Environmental Advocate Missteps

A July 9 Bay Journal article provides an interesting examination into how the public backlash over stormwater fees caught many environmental advocates off-guard and what the advocacy community could have done better.

For longtime stormwater advocates, 2013 should have been a celebratory time. After four years of trying, they had finally persuaded the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill requiring a stormwater fee for large urban areas.  …

But the environmental advocates didn’t count on the deluge of complaints over the fees — some from conservatives averse to paying for any new government programs, some from homeowners angry over costs and many from religious organizations who feared they were staring at thousands of dollars in fees. Before long, Fox News and conservative legislators dubbed the fee a “rain tax,” and many county commissioners and county council members made rumblings about suing the state or refusing to pay it. Amid all of the rhetoric, many homeowners remained confused about what the fees would pay for and why stormwater caused pollution.

The backlash surprised some environmentalists, and has caused some jurisdictions to consider lower fees that could mean fewer improvements to their stormwater systems. But other environmentalists have said they understand the concerns and wish they had done a better job of communicating the importance of the fee and how it would be used.

“I feel like we’ve lost the message game on this,” said Halle Van Der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore. “This uproar is totally logical. However, it could have been mitigated.”  …

Part of the problem, observers have said, is that the environmental community is good at going to state legislatures and lobbying for legislation, but has lost some of its grassroots community-building. There is not a lot of door-to-door canvassing compared with decades past.

The article also discusses the parallels between the stormwater fee and the Bay Restoration Fee (commonly referred to as the “flush tax”), the difference between a fee and a tax, and also provides a summary on the county stormwater fees.

Conduit Street article on Status of County Stormwater Fees