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Counties' plans to cut water pollution prove 'rain tax' was unnecessary, Hogan says

Gov. Larry Hogan said counties' strategies to reduce water pollution show the "rain tax" wasn't necessary.

State environmental officials signed off Tuesday on a list of projects aimed at reducing the amount of pollution that rain washes into the Chesapeake Bay.

But advocates for the environment said the efforts proposed by the state's 10 largest jurisdictions are inadequate to the job of restoring the estuary.

Gov. Larry Hogan called the plans from Baltimore and the nine largest counties "innovative," and said they prove that the stormwater fee derided as the "rain tax" was unnecessary.

Hogan signed a law last year that gave jurisdictions the option not to collect it.

"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," Hogan said in a statement.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, had urged the state to reject the plans.

They argued that local governments had not set aside enough money for the work, and that the projects would not reduce enough pollution to clean up the bay.

Alison Prost, the bay foundation's Maryland executive director, said the state had approved "flawed" plans.

"Six of the county plans only commit to doing half the work that their stormwater permit requires," she said in a statement.

"Urban and suburban polluted runoff have severely degraded local rivers and streams, damaging fish and wildlife and creating human health risks," Prost said. "Without clear and transparent plans to reduce that pollution it will be difficult to restore water quality."

Officials from Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties are required to develop plans to comply with federal stormwater permits. Because some counties have opted not to collect the stormwater fees, the Maryland Department of the Environment reviews the proposals to make sure they can afford to pay for the necessary projects.

The permits require 20 percent reductions in the amount of paved surfaces across the jurisdictions. But governments are allowed to count other measures — such as increased street sweeping — as having an equivalent effect.

Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Frederick and Harford counties proposed improvements to wastewater treatment plants to account for as much as half of the required pavement removal, according to a state report.

Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the plans submitted by the jurisdictions show the arrangement "provides flexibility while demanding accountability and results."

The environmental coalition argued that the federal Environmental Protection Agency doesn't allow jurisdictions to swap in wastewater treatment plant improvements for pavement removal.

In a letter to Grumbles in August, the coalition said the jurisdictions underestimated how much it will cost them to meet the pollution reduction goals.

Baltimore and the nine counties proposed spending $553 million over the next two fiscal years on projects that help them meet the goals, the state said.

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