Photo by Crystal Payton

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The Maryland gubernatorial Democratic primary election is now just days away, and all seven candidates in the race are vying to replace the incumbent, Republican Larry Hogan. Two candidates, Ben Jealous and Rushern Baker, have emerged as frontrunners.

On the campaign trail in 2014, Hogan emphasized one promise in particular: his promise to repeal Maryland’s stormwater remediation fee. The fee on real estate owners aimed to counteract the issues of flooding and water pollution that development can create by creating impervious surfaces that water can’t sink into. He and others mocked the fee, calling it a “rain tax.”

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Since this year’s devastating flooding, Hogan has doubled down on his stance, releasing another video attacking Democrats for supporting the “rain tax.” In an email to the Real News, his campaign said:

Regarding the Rain Tax, the things being said are simply not true. The Rain Tax mandate was about water quality and pollution, not flood mitigation. The repeal of the Rain Tax repealed the statewide mandate – local jurisdictions still have to comply with stormwater management regulations, they simply get to choose how to do so for themselves instead of it being dictated by the state. Several jurisdictions, including Howard County, still have a fee. Additionally, the vote to repeal the Rain Tax was nearly unanimous, so some of the politicians attempting to capitalize on a tragedy to criticize the governor actually voted for the repeal legislation.

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The Real News spoke with each of the Democratic candidates for governor to ask what each of them would do to address stormwater management, and if they would support reinstating the fee.

Ben Jealous

In a statement sent via email, Ben Jealous said:

My heart is still with those in Ellicott City and beyond affected by the flooding and we have to help them re-build with smart growth principles in mind but we need to do more in the long term to prevent these types of tragedies. We know that over the last half century, climate change has exacerbated heavy downpours, and that annual damages from flooding are projected to rise at least by the hundreds of millions. We need to do more to invest in drainage systems and reduce stormwater runoff. We need to take climate change and natural disasters seriously and when I’m governor, we will.

We asked about where revenue to fund drainage systems would come from. His campaign responded:

Ben’s been very clear that funding many of his priorities is about managing our resources better. As the former national President & CEO of the NAACP he left the organization a far stronger place having doubled its revenue stream and multiplied its donor base by a factor of eight as well as electrifying the organization in other ways.

He’s an executive with a proven track record and rejects the notion that in order to do better we have to spend more.

Rushern Baker

In a statement, Rushern Baker’s campaign told the Real News:

Rushern Baker is the only candidate that has tackled flood issues head on.  Early in his first term, the County Administration Building flooded (where his office is located) from a major storm, and ever since he has been intimately familiar with stormwater solutions, from major flood control construction projects to building neighborhood raingardens.  

Prince George’s is the lowest lying large county in the state, with many neighborhoods in FEMA flood zones, so his experience addressing these issues is extensive. In collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, he oversaw a comprehensive construction effort building and raising earthen levees and increasing greenspace to stop flooding in the Patuxent and Anacostia Watersheds.  Also, unlike other public officials, he did not shy away from stromwater [sic] requirements for the public and private sectors, and developed the most innovative stormwater management program in the country, the Clean Water Partnership, as a national model for controlling stormwater, protecting the bay, growing the green economy, and importantly, creating jobs.

As Governor, Baker will continue the success this record of commitment and success at the state level, to cut down on unmitigated stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, require all counties to fund and complete their Bay restoration stormwater mandates, and establish the path to 100% clean energy with an emphasis on local manufacturing and generation to continue to boost Maryland as the national leader for the green economy.

This and more information is available on our Environmental Platform, the Baker/Embry Greenprint.

Krish Vignarajah

Vignarajah is the only candidate to release a full 12-step plan for reducing flooding across Maryland, which says:

The most conservative, cost-effective approach is to plan now for the next 1,000 year flood and ensure that every community across Maryland is safer and stronger.

Just before she released this plan, in an interview with TRNN’s Dharna Noor, she said:

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DHARNA NOOR: So, I want to go through and unpack, I think, all of those. And we can start with the environment. We recently saw devastating floods here in Ellicott City and parts of Southwest Baltimore. And of course, when Larry Hogan was first running for governor, he ran on this platform that centered on what he called the “rain tax” or the mandate that developers would have to put money into stormwater management. How would you distinguish yourself from Hogan here? How would you sort of work to prevent these kinds of extreme weather events destroying communities, and work to fight climate change?

KRISH VIGNARAJAH: Yeah. So, I think the distinction between me and Governor Hogan on this issue is that I’m not going to play politics. Hogan, his rain tax resonated because people perceived previous administrations as nickeling and diming folks. And I get that. I understand why people feel like we have a high cost of living, we have a high tax burden, and that is something that I do want to address head-on, because our government doesn’t operate as efficiently as we need to. At the same time, the truth is that floods are natural in some ways, but when you see two one-thousand-year storms that have happened within less than one thousand days of one another, clearly there is something bigger at issue.

So, part of what I want to address is the fact that we have to have better stormwater management. When you have two large developments, when you pave over mother nature’s natural defenses and create roads or parking lots, what essentially you’re creating are slides that become the conduit for the volume and velocity of water that we saw in Ellicott City, here in Baltimore City, Baltimore County. This past weekend I was in Ocean City, they saw the effects of it. Last week, I was in Frederick. And so, this is where you realize this issue is going to come up time and time again. And the kind of political pandering is not leadership, and the fact that Governor Hogan has doubled down on this issue is, again, where I think he is so far out of sync with what people are feeling and where we need to go.

DHARNA NOOR: But then, so how would you fund something like a stormwater management system if not with something like the stormwater development tax?

KRISH VIGNARAJAH: Yeah. So, it’s a great question. I hope that people will tune in to our policies on the website, or, because we actually have a very elaborate flood plan. To your specific question about how do you actually pay for this, part of it is making sure that as developments are created, we’ve got to make sure that the externalities, basically the effects, of these developments are included in the pricing of that construction. And so, what I mean by that is that if you are going to create a development, there have to be requirements for the flood water management that are the effect of that construction.

Rich Madaleno

TRNN journalist Jaisal Noor asked Madaleno about his plans to address flooding and climate change in an interview:

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JAISAL NOOR: Maryland’s been in the news because of the historic flooding in Ellicott City. Governor Hogan ran on repealing the so-called rain tax, as he called it, and he successfully was able to repeal that. What would you do differently if elected governor to address issues of flooding, as well as climate change?

RICH MADALENO: Well, I think first you have to believe in it. You know, you have two political parties, one that embraces science and understands the need to take action on climate change, and one that denies it. So you need to have a governor who’s willing to lead, get out on-, to get out in front of issues like stormwater management, like dealing with flooding, like understanding the connection between the way we’re planning, the way we’re growing, and its impact on things like storm water, both from a pollution standpoint and from a capacity standpoint. You can’t just ignore it. And I think, you know, Governor Hogan ran on an agenda that made fun of the work of the O’Malley-Brown administration, and we didn’t stand up and explain why we were taking these actions. I think people are starting to realize when they see the impacts of climate change, thousand-year floods that are happening every other year, they realize things have to change if we’re going to survive in a way that allows us to continue to thrive.

JAISAL NOOR: What specific steps would you take to address this kind of flooding, not only in Ellicott City, but in other parts of the state, as well?

RICH MADALENO: Well, we need to be smart about having the state help the counties develop in ways that mitigate the consequences of the development. Part of what seems to be happening in Ellicott City is the watershed that flows into Ellicott City is getting more and more paved over with impervious services. There’s no place for the water to go, which then just pushes it all towards that narrow path that then increases the likelihood of flooding. Plus you’ve got these unusual storm systems that are popping up, which one would imagine is the impact of climate change. So you’ve got to have a state government that is willing to be a partner with the local governments, to help them plan correctly. And you need a state government that’s going to be a partner with the federal government and the local governments to deal with mitigation, to deal with what to do, thinking forward with what to do with storm water.

Alec Ross

TRNN journalist Jaisal Noor also spoke with Ross about his plans to address flooding and climate change:

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JAISAL NOOR: So, Larry Hogan campaigned and successfully repealed the so-called rain tax. And he’s doubled down on that move since the flooding, historic flooding that devastated Ellicott City last month. What would your approach be to both development in places like Ellicott City, but as well as addressing issues like climate change that we know impact the severity of storms, like the one that poured, you know, a ton of rain on Ocean City-, I mean, on Ellicott City? Actually, on Ocean City just this weekend, as well.

ALEC ROSS: Yeah. So, first give Larry Hogan credit. He’s, he’s a great politician. Bad at governing, but great at politicking. Even calling it a rain tax. It’s not a rain tax, it’s a stormwater remediation fee, the purpose of which was to actually contain the effects of exactly what just happened in Ellicott City.

Look, on this issue of climate change I think that sometimes change has to come incrementally, but other times I think incrementalism is, like, literally killing us. And on issues of climate and environment I think we need a leader who is not going to sort of nibble at the edges of the challenges, but be really bold, which is part of why I want to bring real clean energy infrastructure into the state of Maryland through the creation of the kind of green bank that’s worked really well in other states. I want to bring a $1 billion green bank into Maryland so that we can actually produce clean energy and have a more sustainable future.

Jim Shea

In a statement sent to TRNN via email, Shea’s campaign said:

Governor Hogan misleading Marylanders with his rain-tax talking point was a public disservice. Since he “repealed” the stormwater runoff fee, Maryland has suffered from two 1,000 year rainfalls, and communities, including Elicott City [sic], have suffered extreme damage. Unless we take real action, we will continue to see significant damage in our communities from runoff.

We need to get back to the basics. We need a Planning Department at the state level that is doing the detail-oriented work of accounting for permeable sources and potential runoff during development considerations. We also must find a way to entice Marylanders and businesses in Maryland to control their runoff.

More broadly, rising sea levels are projected to threaten over 60,000 homes in Maryland this century. In order to protect our environment, Jim will target much more ambitious goals for our renewable portfolio standard (50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050). And, in order to get there, he will invest in expanding Maryland’s energy storage capacity and renewable energy production. Jim will transform our transportation sector by properly investing in mass transit and working to develop the technology and infrastructure (charging stations, for example) to make ZEVs (zero-emissions vehicles) a more realistic option for Marylanders. And, Jim will bring together the agriculture sector and environmental community to chart a path forward that protects the Bay and allows the state’s largest commercial industry to flourish.

Ralph Jaffe

In a statement sent to TRNN via email, Jaffe said:

One thing I have learned which stands out since I started as a political science teacher in 1964 is as follows.  In those days, politicians listened to their constituents. Today, that has noticeably changed. Politicians do not listen.  Rather, they are arrogant and try to give you the impression they have all the answers.

With regard to Ellicott City, I want to hear directly from the victims of the devastation.  What do they think should be done in the future to prevent such catastrophes from happening again.  

I also want to hear from the constituents throughout the state of Maryland on what they think should be done with regard to climate change and how it affects their well being.  Yes – I know how to listen.

I will also approach the experts in government who have the knowledge on the various aspects related to the many facets of climate change.  Additionally, I will seek the advice from the private sector.

Once I have obtained and absorbed the data, I will come up with specific recommendation to be implemented which will not require any approval from the Maryland state legislature.

Tune into the Real News’ live election coverage of the Democratic primary on June 26, 2018 from 9:30 PM – 11:30 PM Eastern at

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.