MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, MD., February 6, 2015 – Newly elected Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland campaigned against and has promised to repeal the so called “rain tax” or Stormwater Remediation Fee.
The fee was created in April 2012 and affects the largest urban jurisdictions in Maryland consisting of nine counties and the City of Baltimore and is designed to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act as it concerns the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Maryland is the only state that has imposed a tax on how much storm drainage is discharged into surface water bodies and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
While other states like Virginia, New York, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania also impact the bay, they haven’t taken steps to directly penalize storm drainage contributions to it.
The Federal mandate stems from EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load which identified mandatory reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that damage the water quality of the Bay. These pollutants are found in urban and agricultural run-off.
The cost to stop/reverse the damage to the Bay is a whopping $14.8 billion.
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the richest estuaries in the world. The Bay formed by the million year flow of the Susquehanna and other rivers is unique in the US. It has been critical to the history of the area, the East Coast and the US in general. After European colonization it became a focal point for commerce and transport. The bay itself has provided its riches to Native Americans and the millions that have lived in its estuaries after European colonization.
Does it make sense to tax storm drainage into the bay?
You should judge for yourself.
In the process of industry and commerce, we install very large impervious surfaces and cultivate large expanses of land, which requires fertilization. Paved surfaces reduce the amount of run-off that is taken up by the soils.
While a typical vegetated surface in the Maryland area may take up about 2/3 of the rain or irrigation, paved surfaces, like the gray in the map surrounding the harbor, prevent over 90% of the flow from going into the ground.
The storm flow carries with it pollutants from the paved surface as well as nutrients (carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus) from cultivated lands including over-fertilized private yards and parks.
Excessive input of nutrients into a body of water causes “eutrophication”, a technical term for ecological destruction. Excess nutrients cause algae blooms that take the oxygen from the water and kill most sea life.
Other pollutants found in storm water may cause even more harm in the long run.
It is well documented that federal programs mandating the treatment of sewage and industrial waste prior to disposal into our rivers and the Bay have been successful. These programs were especially successful in controlling the pollution of rivers and streams, but we now find that the biggest contributor to pollution is storm water run-off.
This is where the disagreement starts. Industry and pro-business interests typically criticize studies and their conclusions that indicate that pollution will have dire consequences. To them, the Bay looks good enough and it is safe for recreation.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, degrading water quality as a result of pollutants are killing the bay. One example is oysters, once an abundant product of the Chesapeake Bay:
It has been estimated that oysters were once able to filter all the water in the Bay in about a week. The sharp decrease in the number of oysters means that it now takes the current oyster population about a year to filter the same amount of water. Because the oyster serves such an important function as a filter feeder, it has been hypothesized that their decrease has contributed to an apparent shift in the food web in the Bay, and an increase in zooplankton (which also eat phytoplankton) and their predators (ctenophores and jellyfish). – NOAA
Even those who agree that something has to be done don’t agree with any solution that tax them. They either don’t care where the funds to implement measures come from or they believe the cost should be shared by all. They never claim the latter openly, but it is logical to assume that if damage is done, a remedy would have to be found and the fiscal budget is where it is.
Others believe that any revenue exacted from the storm water tax will not really be used to implement solutions to the problem. They think that it will only fatten the coffers of an over-bloated bureaucracy. Most of these are cynics that refuse to believe that government actually helps or implements solutions to our problems.
Finally at the bottom of the list there are those who in combination with the reasoning of some of the opponents above, believe that exclusions and inclusions to the law was unfair.
The law excludes government from the tax and doesn’t exclude religious facilities. Some find these conditions abhorrent.
Typically government is excluded from taxes and fees. The reasoning is that it doesn’t make any sense to exact taxes from the entity that collects them.
There is no reason to exclude religious facilities. Weather does not inflict less rain to church roofs and parking lots than to other buildings. Those who support places of worship, schools and other institutions should be ready to do their part in preventing/remedying the pollution of our Bay.
- If you believe the Bay should be protected, go to step 2. Otherwise exit this listing;
- If you believe that those who contribute to the problem should be responsible go to step 3. Otherwise exit this listing;
- If you believe that any tax is a bad tax, exit the listing. Otherwise continue;
- There is no logical reason to exclude religious facilities from this tax other than to continue a tradition that to many doesn’t make sense;
- Call Annapolis and tell Governor Hogan to do the right thing and protect the Bay.
Let’s make those responsible for the pollution pay to prevent/remedy it. Don’t be dissuaded by one liners as the ones the Hogan’s campaign used. Wish Brown had told people why the so called “rain tax” was necessary instead of just remaining quiet.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is also an environmental engineer with 30+ years of experience in water pollution, prevention and control. He in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+ and Facebook (Mario Salazar).