While environmentalists have so far spent much of this year's 90-day General Assembly session defending the state's stormwater mandate, some of them say they may be back on the offensive soon.

This time their focus will be on exemptions from the law under which:

  • Some federal entities pay no fees. The Department of Defense has interpreted federal law to exempt its properties from such charges, and Fort George G. Meade and the U.S. Naval Academy don't get bills from Anne Arundel County or Annapolis, environmentalists say.
  • Most private businesses on federal property aren't billed. For instance, the USO of Metropolitan Washington - which in any case, as a nonprofit, would have to pay only $1 under county law - has an agreement with Fort Meade to provide all of its utilities, said spokeswoman Michelle Shortencarrier.
  • The State of Maryland pays no stormwater charges, as its properties, including its buildings in Annapolis, are exempt from all local fees.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has included money in his proposed fiscal 2015 budget "to pay for the state 's obligation to address stormwater from state facilities in local jurisdictions" that charge fees, said Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson.

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But that money is not guaranteed and is included in a trust fund that in recent years has lost millions to the general fund to make up for budget deficits.

Given that county and city residents will have to pay up, such exemptions aren't fair, said Tom Zolper, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Zolper said the CBF would "absolutely" be involved in an effort in coming General Assembly sessions to remove the government exemptions to the mandate.

"There shouldn't be exemptions. States have the same issue that local homeowners and local businesses have. Polluted runoff is discharging from that property," he said. "Some places there are large properties. We don't think it's fair that the state is exempted from a process that they are putting in place for everyone else."

Under the state stormwater mandate passed by the General Assembly in 2012, Maryland's 10 most populous jurisdictions were required to set up stormwater fees to pay for projects to fund the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Anne Arundel County Council responded last year by approving fees of $85 for most single-family homes, $170 for other homes and $34 for condominiums and town houses.

Last year Del. Alfred Carr, D-Montgomery, introduced a bill to repeal the exemption for state properties. But the legislation, Zolper said, was "kind of hijacked" and amended to include a two-year delay for the mandate. It failed.

Zolper said that as the environmental community feared similar maneuvers this year, it decided to focus on defending the mandate instead of reintroducing Carr's bill to repeal the state exemption.

"We weren't going to open that can of worms, so we focused on strictly defending the (mandate) - not allowing it to be weakened any further," Zolper said.

This year legislation to repeal the mandate has been shot down in both the House and the Senate. Attempts by several counties to remove their jurisdictions from the mandate have also failed.

Environmentalists said that repealing the state exemption and other exemptions could force the federal government to pay up as well.

According to a Department of Defense Base Structure Report from September 2011, the Defense Department owned 7,948 acres and 501 buildings in Anne Arundel.

A federal law passed in 2011, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., mandated that the feds pay all "reasonable" stormwater fees.

In March 2013, after the proposed county fees had been introduced but before the County Council had finalized them, the federal government sent council members a letter saying the Defense Department wouldn't pay them.

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Christine H. Porter, the Defense Department's regional environmental coordinator for Environmental Protection Agency Region III, wrote that the Defense Department wouldn't pay the fees because the language in the county's proposed law excluded Annapolis.

A copy of the letter was sent to the Anne Arundel County House of Delegates delegation earlier this month.

The state law mandating the fees exempts municipalities. But Annapolis has charged stormwater fees of its own since Mayor Ellen O. Moyer was in office, long before the state considered a mandate.

City homeowners pay $40 annually. Commercial property owners pay between $150 and $500, depending on the amount of impervious surface they own.

Porter's letter also gave the County Council another reason the Defense Department wouldn't pay: "all or a significant portion of the stormwater from some of these facilities discharges directly to U.S. waters" instead of into closed stormwater systems maintained by the county, such as pipes and ponds.

Some environmentalists suggested that the feds' fiscal obligation be judged on a case-by-case basis.

During an Anne Arundel County House delegation meeting last month, Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, asked whether Fort Meade paid stormwater fees.

Responding in a March 5 email, Chad Jones, the installation's director of public affairs, attached Porter's letter to illustrate "the guidance from DOD" to not pay the fees. Jones could not be reached for further comment on Fort Meade's position.

Asked if the Naval Academy paid fees, spokesman Mike Brady sent a statement from Robert Williams, environmental compliance product line coordinator for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington.

"The Navy has not received an invoice from Anne Arundel County for stormwater fees," Williams wrote in the email. "The Navy reviewed the stormwater legislation and sent a letter to Anne Arundel County (the Porter letter) stating reasons why we could not pay the fee."

The Maryland Department of the Environment has taken no position on the federal government's reluctance to pay the fees in Anne Arundel or elsewhere.

"The determination is dependent on each facility's review of the local ordinances, structure of the fee and their interpretation of federal law," said Apperson, the MDE spokesman.

While the state does not now pay Anne Arundel or Annapolis any fees for its buildings in Annapolis, Apperson said in an email that O'Malley had requested funding in next year's budget to cover stormwater fees for state facilities in jurisdictions where such fees are charged.

The money, he said, was in the Department of Natural Resources budget as part of the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund.

O'Malley had proposed using $67 million of the trust fund to help farmers and local governments reduce polluted runoff, a major problem in virtually every county in the state. The fund is supposed to pay for projects statewide, even in jurisdictions that don't charge stormwater fees.

But the fund has been cut by $135 million- mainly through diversions to the general fund - since 2009.

This year the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee decided to spare the fund a $10 million cut suggested by the legislature's chief fiscal analyst. But the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2014, passed by the Senate last week, includes $13.2 million in cuts to the fund over two years.

The bill's fiscal note says the legislation would redirect $8 million of short-term vehicle rental revenues from the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund to the general fund in fiscal 2014 and an additional $3.2 million in fiscal 2015.

It would also transfer $2.4 million of the balance in the trust fund to the general fund in fiscal 2014.

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