Cardin Law Makes Federal Government Pay Stormwater Fees

 Nancy Sutley, chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, talks to Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin Thursday about the effect water runoff has on the health of waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. Capital News Service Photo by Kerry Davis.


Capital News Service
Thursday, January 13, 2011

COLLEGE PARK - Local and state governments could see stormwater management fees from the federal government in "a matter of weeks," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Thursday about a new law he co-sponsored.

Cardin hosted a roundtable discussion in College Park to highlight the law clarifying that the federal government is not exempt from local and state stormwater fees, which help fight pollution. Federal government facilities like military bases, prisons and agencies could be charged stormwater fees like private businesses.

"If they are part of the problem, they should be part of the solution," said roundtable participant Ken Kirk, executive director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

About 3 percent of land in Maryland and about 5 percent of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is owned by the federal government, Cardin said. Now local municipalities and counties can assess the federal government for those properties to generate revenue for measures such as erosion control and drainage systems.

The District of Columbia anticipates revenue of $2.6 million from federal government fees, according to the District Department of the Environment. Estimates for anticipated revenue in Maryland are not available because fees vary by jurisdiction.

Some Maryland jurisdictions, like Takoma Park, charge flat-rate fees for single-family residences and fees based on the amount of impervious area for multifamily units and nonresidential properties.

Other jurisdictions, like Prince George's County, use a portion of the property tax to fund their programs, said Sam Wynkoop, acting director of the county's Department of Environmental Resources.

Wynkoop said the federal government owns 8.2 percent of the land in Prince George's County, where officials may reconsider how to assess the fees with the passage of the new law.

At the event, participants examined the potential effects of the legislation on the ability of local and state governments to combat pollution, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay.

"The Chesapeake watershed is particularly vulnerable to this source of pollution," Cardin said. "It's the only major source of pollution in Chesapeake Bay that is growing."

Pollution becomes a more significant issue as development increases in the region.

"One acre of a parking lot will produce 16 times more pollution than one acre of meadowland," Cardin explained.

Acting Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment Robert Summers spoke about the need to retrofit already-developed areas with low-impact materials.

"Over 70 percent of the urban/suburban land in Maryland was developed prior to any stormwater controls," Summers said.

Revenues generated from the federal government fees could enable jurisdictions to address the challenges created by stormwater pollution.

Congress passed the law in December in response to a Government Accountability Office letter that denied federal government payment to the District of Columbia for impervious surface area charges. The GAO contended that the charges were akin to an impermissible tax on the federal government.

President Obama signed the bill into law last week.

Cardin praised the cooperation of the Obama administration and thanked roundtable participant Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, for her work on the issue.

With more than 2 million employees, 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles nationwide, the federal government has a large footprint on the environment, Sutley said.

"It is important that the federal government not only be a leader," Sutley said, "but also a good neighbor."