MACo, Other Stakeholders Share Concerns at House Stormwater Fee Bill Hearing

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson and Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller’s stormwater repeal legislation, SB 863, at its April 1st bill hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing.  Committee Chair Kumar Barve stated that working on the bill was a “top priority” of the Committee, which has formed an ad hoc workgroup to handle the bill.

The hearing consisted of several panels of stakeholders who were specifically invited to testify on the bill. The first panel was the Senate President and his chief of staff Victoria Gruber.  This was followed by three panels: one for local governments, one for environmental groups, and one for builders and business interests.  No panelist testified in opposition.

MACo’s testimony outlined MACo’s broad position on the fee and also offered several key amendments:

MACo’s position on all stormwater fee legislation introduced this Session has been consistent:  provide counties with maximum flexibility to meet their diverse MS4 permit requirements while still maintaining a reasonable system of accountability and oversight. …

Amendment #1 would alter the frequency of when a county must submit a financial assurance plan and undergo a public hearing, clarify the standard of review by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and create a more graduated and logically related penalty system …

Amendment #2 would address added language (not in the original bill) relating to a municipal tax setoff which introduces a much broader local government issue not properly within the scope of this bill…

Further details on the hearing from an April 1 Baltimore Sun article:

The Senate president’s bill would make the fees optional, but it also would require local officials report publicly on what projects they’re planning to reduce polluted runoff, and how they intend to pay for them. They’d have to report their progress annually, and if the Maryland Department of the Environment finds their plans or progress lacking, could withhold state funds for a variety of environmental projects.

Officials with the Maryland Association of Counties, though, told committee members that Miller’s bill was too stringent. They asked for amendments reducing how often local governments have to report their progress, and easing the standards by which state regulators judge whether local governments are doing enough to reduce stormwater pollution. They also warned that the bill’s threat of withholding state funds could jeopardize counties’ bond ratings, causing serious fiscal problems for local governments and their taxpayers.

Spokesmen for builders’ groups and owners of office parks and commercial developments said they feared the bill could shift the burden of bay cleanup unfairly to them. The current law provides some safeguards against that, they said, while Miller’s bill does not.

Alison Prost, Maryland director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said activists didn’t care so much where the money came from, as long as stormwater got curtailed. ….

Prost urged lawmakers not to accept any amendments that would weaken the bill. She and others urged the panel instead to strengthen the reporting requirements, and give community groups more say in assessing the job local governments are doing.

 April 1 Coverage By WBAL TV Channel 11