Pennsylvania lawmakers weigh cost of stormwater runoff mandate

Unfunded federal mandates aimed at reducing pollution from stormwater runoff flowing into Pennsylvania waterways are stretching the resources of communities across the commonwealth.

Despite the mandates, minimum control measures (MCMs) aimed at controlling preventable pollution have not reduced the volume of pollutants flowing into local and regional waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay, said Steven Taglang, acting director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Clean Water.

The requirements are part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection implements on behalf of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The federal program regulates stormwater discharges from three sources: municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), construction activities and industrial activities.

“Many local leaders are facing difficult decisions in order to meet the mandated MS4 requirement,” state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, said during a recent hearing of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants, including trash, oils and sediment as it flows across the land and impervious surfaces such as paved surfaces and the roofs of buildings. These pollutants can damage streams, rivers and lakes.

“We have to maintain the streams, but we have to do it in a way that everybody has to be involved in it, and I think that people have to be upfront about it,” state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Bradford, said during the hearing. “That helps MS4.”

The MS4 program traces its origins to the 1990s and the EPA pushed a 2018 Pennsylvania MS4 permit requirement intended to reduce current pollution levels. Under the provision, MS4s prepare Pollutant Reduction Plans to determine the pollutant levels and develop best management practices (BMPs) designed to capture nutrients and sediment.

MS4 requirements are mostly unchanged since 2003.

“To fund BMP installation, operation, and maintenance, municipalities can use tax-based revenue sources; municipalities and authorities can also use fee-based revenue sources,” Taglang said in prepared testimony.

“DEP encourages the use of fee systems because they assign costs based on the amount of stormwater runoff generated by each parcel of property,” Taglang added. “However, DEP does not have the authority to require stormwater fee systems nor does DEP have a standard for the creation of stormwater fee systems.”

Ben Thomas Jr., the mayor of Greencastle and the manager of Cumberland Township, told lawmakers he supports the original intent of MS4 legislation, but the costs of implementation are burdening his communities.

Greencastle, a 1.6 square mile borough with 4,000 residents, began charging MS4 fees, and the first billing cost taxpayers almost $300,000, Thomas said.

“This is the largest unfunded mandate ever to financially burden us,” he said in his written testimony.

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