In a move aimed at helping Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, the General Assembly adopted a bill late last night mandating that Maryland's largest localities, including Baltimore city and its suburbs, levy fees on their residents to pay for controlling polluted runoff from streets, parking lots and buildings.

HB987 cleared the Senate after a protracted debate and repeated efforts by opponents to limit the requirement.  All failed, though senators did exempt state, county and municipal governments and volunteer fire companies from having to pay any fees.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, denounced the fee mandate, saying state lawmakers were forcing local governments to pay for pollution reductions ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency under a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan adopted more than a year ago.

"We're going to tax rain water," said Pipkin, who noted that the EPA's authority to impose a "pollution diet" for the bay is currently being challenged in federal court.  He warned that cleaning up storm-water pollution, which some have estimated could cost more than $6 billion by 2025, would hurt Maryland's economy, especially if other states in the bay region don't impose similar fees on their residents.

But Sen.Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's, responded that the bill is needed because local governments have lacked the political will to to raise funds to pay for tree-planting, storm-drain retrofits and other pollution control measures needed to restore the bay.  Storm-water pollution from urban and suburban communities is the source of roughly one-fifth of the nitrogen and phosphorus fouling the bay, he noted.

House members quickly accepted the Senate version without debate just minutes before the scheduled midnight end of the 90-day session.  Besides the city, the bill would require fees be imposed in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Harford, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.  Montgomery already levies such a fee.