24 April 2013
First Published in
The Frederick News Post
When faced with an unfunded $14.8 billion mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Maryland legislators didn’t fight it. They said, “How can we help,” and passed the tax onto the state’s 10 largest counties, including Frederick.
So, starting July 1, homeowners, businesses and nonprofits in those counties will start paying a rain tax in the hopes of reducing storm runoff — and nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake Bay. Property owners will pay more than $100 per home in some jurisdictions and some businesses and organizations could owe thousands of dollars, depending on the square footage of their “impervious surfaces.”
Virginia took a different path. Instead of bowing to EPA demands that the state regulate the flow of water into Accotink Creek, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the Democratic-led Fairfax County Board of Supervisors sued the agency in July. The suit claimed the agency overstepped its authority under the Clean Water Act by demanding the state regulate not just the pollutants in the water but the flow of water itself.
In January a federal judge ruled that the EPA could not regulate the flow of water and said the agency illegally overreached its authority in trying to do so. In March the agency said it would not appeal the decision.
Of the win Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican running for governor, said in a statement, “This would have been a dangerous precedent for Virginia, as the EPA could have demanded this solution in localities across the commonwealth at an enormous price tag to Virginia and its residents, with no proof that the EPA’s solution would work.” He also noted that the regulations would have required the state to seize private property in order to build water retention facilities.
Would that Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, a Democrat prepping for a gubernatorial run, stand up for the people of Maryland in the same way, as there is no guarantee the tax will work as intended.
The 2012 law that mandated the surcharge, HB 987, shows that the money could be squandered on activities indirectly linked to reducing runoff like “public education and outreach relating to stormwater management or stream and wetland restoration,” grants to nonprofits and administrative
And while the money is not supposed to be diverted into county general funds, the state has set a terrible precedent for counties with its lengthy track record of stealing money from alleged trust funds to use for other purposes and not paying it back.
The bigger issue, of course, is whether the new tax will do anything to reduce nutrients in the bay since one of the biggest polluters is the nutrients and sediment from the Susquehanna River flowing over the Conowingo Dam.
All of this points to the fact that taxpayers are going to get stiffed for no good reason thanks to a legislature doing the bidding of the EPA. With Virginia’s legal win, it behooves Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration to renegotiate with the agency for sake of taxpayers, burned by 37 tax, fee and toll hikes during his tenure. http://www.changemaryland.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/TaxFee-v.3-3.30.13.pdf