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Local leaders criticize Pennsylvania 'rain tax,' stormwater rules

 

Implementing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s stormwater rules is challenging and expensive, leaders from Pennsylvania’s boroughs, municipalities, townships and counties told lawmakers this week.

DEP officials did not attend a joint hearing of the House Local Government and Environmental Resources and Energy committees despite repeated requests, said Rep. Dan Moul, chairman of the Local Government Committee. The stormwater rules have prompted backlash from some Pennsylvania taxpayers who have called it a “rain tax.”

Lawmakers had hoped to hear from DEP officials and have the rules clarified.

Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello said the DEP changes have cost her city millions. The city initially spent $1 million when it was designated by the DEP as a small municipal separate stormwater system, also known as an MS4, which required them to meet six elements of a stormwater management program.

Lebanon officials joined a multi-jurisdictional consortium to share stormwater improvement costs and spent another $1.4 million in light of other changes. Most of that money has been used on projects outside of Lebanon, Capello said. Another $2.1 million will be spent over the three years.

The city implemented a fee to pay for the costs, which has resulted in some taxpayer backlash, Capello said.

“Our residents don’t understand a fee or tax,” she said. “It’s the same thing to them. It’s dollars coming out of their pocket.”

Moul said it was like “Charlie Brown and Lucy moving the football.”

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chairman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said there was incompetence or the DEP was not implementing the law.

“We look at utilities as paying for something that is delivered to us,” Metcalfe said. “I don’t think anyone in the history of our country has expected we were going to have to pay when it rains because of stormwater runoff.”

Moul said he knows there are “two sides to every pancake” and wanted to hear from the DEP, but he said the agency “doesn’t have the answers we are looking for.”

“Coming from the community side, I rarely hear anything good about it,” Moul said. “I think it’s because of the lack of knowledge. Basically, what it comes down to is we’re throwing things out in the dark to see what sticks and we don’t even know where it’s landing.”

Capello said she understands the goal is to be a good steward of the environment but “we should be smart about it.”

“Let’s put our money where we will have the most beneficial outcome and use everyone’s dollars wisely,” she said.

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