Help the Watershed Restoration and Protection Legislation
About the Legislation
The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program (HB987), passed in 2012, is the framework within the ten largest jurisdictions in Maryland that works to manage local polluted runoff which is contributed from impervious surfaces.
Supporters of the law have been working to show the positive benefits to our local communities, waterways, and the Chesapeake Bay.
However opponents have pledged to significantly weaken or repeal the entire Watershed Protection and Restoration Program.
Last fall’s election saw now-Governor Hogan’s campaign focus on an anti-tax message. At the center of his campaign was removing the tax on impervious surfaces, a source of revenue collected by local governments to fund stream restoration, increased street sweeping, and green infrastructure projects. Despite the modesty of (and misinformation about) these fees, many Marylanders bought into the “rain tax” rhetoric and there became increasing pressure to repeal the law.
Policy Movement in 2015
At the end of February 2015, Senate President Mike Miller introduced a bill (SB863) that would revise the original 2012 Watershed Protection and Restoration Program law. Blue Water Baltimore and other supporters had concerns about President Miller’s bill that would effectively repeal HB987 and also have negative effects on existing programs.
President Miller then reached out and asked us for amendments to address our concerns. We made numerous recommendations and many of our suggestions are now included. Late last month, the Senate unanimously passed this iteration of the bill, and it is now being considered in the House of Delegates.
If passed, the new bill SB863 will:
- Eliminate the mandate requirement that jurisdictions charge a fee on impervious surfaces. It does not, however, eliminate the requirement to have a dedicated fund to pay for projects and programs to reduce flooding and reduce polluted runoff.
- Local governments will have greater flexibility to generate the revenue required to meet federally mandated water quality goals, as outlined in their MS4 permits. This may include the use of a fee on impervious surfaces, or it may not. Regardless, jurisdictions must submit an annual financial assurance plan to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in order to demonstrate that they have sufficient funding for permit compliance.
- Increase accountability and transparency by requiring the submission of annual financial assurance plans.
- Lay out a series of significant penalties, including reductions in state funding, for jurisdictions that fail to file a satisfactory financial assurance plan.
This bill is an improvement over HB987, and we support the bill with amendments. While flexibility, accountability, and transparency are improved, we still feel that amendments could be made to achieve even more accountability in regards to the financial assurance plans as well as additional legal enforceability.
This bill will go a long way in speeding up the process of restoring our local streams and rivers, as well as the Chesapeake Bay. If passed, we will not only see improvements in our waters, but also in our communities and our local economy.
While we seek to strengthen the bill, there are many powerful interests seeking to weaken it, and we need to be sure the environmental voice is heard as well.
We Need Your Help
You can help by placing a call to your representatives in the House of Delegates.
Telling your representative that you want SB863 to remain strong so it can be as effective as possible at reducing pollution. Here’s how to do it:
- Find your legislators. Enter your address and zip code to find out who your representatives are in the House of Delegates. Then click on their names to be directed to a web page displaying their contact information. Call their office.
- Tell the staff member that answers the phone your name and neighborhood so they know you are from their district. Then tell them that SB863 can help to reduce pollution, but only if it remains strong.
- Tell them you oppose any amendments that would weaken the current bill.
- Thank them for their time and hang up knowing you have helped support clean water!
If you have questions about this bill or would like more information, please send us a message. Email our Advocacy and Public Policy Manger John Berard or follow him on Twitter.