MDE Approves Counties’ Stormwater Financial Plans, Environmentalists Critical

A Bay Journal article (2016-10-18) reported that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has approved the financial assurance plans submitted by the 10 counties subject to a Phase 1 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit for stormwater runoff. As previously reported on Conduit Street, SB 863 of 2015 repealed the requirement that the ten Phase 1 jurisdictions adopt a stormwater remediation fee (commonly known as the “rain tax”) but instead imposed significant reporting requirements, including the submission of a financial assurance plan detailing how the jurisdiction was going to pay for and meet the stormwater runoff reductions under their MS4 permit. From the article:

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued a statement saying that Baltimore city and the state’s nine largest counties met their requirements under state law to develop financing plans showing how they will pay to reduce stormwater runoff and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. …

“Today’s news further illustrates what many Marylanders and local officials have already known for years: The state does not need to impose yet another burdensome tax on homeowners and job creators in order to successfully manage stormwater runoff,” [Governor Larry] Hogan said. “The innovative plans put forward by these jurisdictions offer even more proof that repealing the Rain Tax was the right thing to do.” …

[Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben] Grumbles issued a statement saying that Maryland’s largest jurisdictions “deserve credit for stepping forward to pay for these clean water projects — for the good of our environment and Maryland’s economy.” The MDE statement said that the 10 localities projected spending more than $1 billion combined over the next five years on stormwater reduction projects.

However, the article also noted that environmental groups had concerns about some of the plans, questioning the reliance on outside funding sources such as grants, questionable stormwater reduction projects, and the use nutrient credit trading. Several counties have also brought legal challenges against the State’s MS4 permit requirements.

The [MDE] announcement comes a day after the Bay Journal reported that a coalition of 18 environmental groups had charged that there were “significant procedural and substantive flaws” in how the localities complied with the law. The groups called on the MDE to reject deficient plans and make local officials fix them. …

“Is there a plan they would not have approved?” asked Evan Isaacson, an analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform. The Washington-based think tank reviewed the localities financing plans itself and reported that it found a number of gaps and flaws in them. …

[Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison] Prost said the MDE “must be held accountable for approving these flawed plans.” She said foundation officials are weighing possible legal action, but may also urge legislative leaders to consider revising the law yet again to demand more accountability. Prost said environmental advocates may also call on the EPA to step in, as federal officials have already found Maryland’s stormwater reduction efforts lagging.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Stormwater Financial Assurance Plans

Bay Journal Article (2016-10-17) on Environmentalist Concerns With County Plans

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