10:20 AM EDT, September 26, 2013
A leading legislator expects a "very strong push" to repeal Maryland's storm-water fee law when lawmakers return to Annapolis in January, but vows to fight any rollback.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee, told attendees at a "storm-water summit" in Baltimore Wednesday that she expects another effort to negate the 2012 law requiring the city and Maryland's nine largest counties to raise funds for controlling runoff pollution from their communities.
Critics of the fee have dubbed it a "rain tax," complaining that steep charges and inconsistencies among localities could drive away businesses. Harford County Executive David Craig, a Republican candidate for governor, has vowed to push for its repeal.
Environmental activists, local officials and others gathered at the University of Baltimore Wednesday for a daylong seminar reviewing new techniques for controlling storm water and ways to use them to generate jobs and enhance neighborhoods. The "summit" was sponsored by 1000 Friends of Maryland and Blue Water Baltimore.
As she did this year with a bid to delay the fee for two years so lawmakers could overhaul it, McIntosh said she'll oppose it. The Baltimore Democrat defended the law, including the way it allows each locality to set its own fees.
Baltimore city's fees are much higher than neighboring counties, while Frederick imposed a 1-cent fee in token protest and Carroll refused to adopt any fee at all, saying it already provided enough funding for runoff controls.
McIntosh said local officials had asked for such latitude to set fees according to their communties' needs.
"We need to move forward with this," McIntosh said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring Maryland and other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce polluted runoff as part of a legally required cleanup of the estuary, and she noted that a federal court had recently rejected efforts to block EPA's requirements for restoring the bay.
Storm-water control projects not only reduce pollution of local streams and the bay, McIntosh argued, but they can also enhance communities by making neighborhoods greener and more inviting places to live, work and play. She said previously blighted areas in the District of Columbia are thriving now because of such greening work.
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