On one side is this radio ad. “Keep the weed killer out of my crab cakes,” Baltimore-based singer Matt Hutchison sings in the ad. “Motor oil out of my rockfish. Fertilizer out of my flounder. That'd make a hideous dish.”
The ad was produced by the Clean Water, Healthy Families Coalition and Annapolis-based Flying Brick Radio, and is airing on radio stations in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington. The goal is to convince the Maryland General Assembly to vote against bills that would overturn the state’s 2012 stormwater runoff pollution control law. That law is under attack by some anti-tax activists because it requires the state’s 9 largest counties and Baltimore city to collect runoff pollution control fees.
"So hey Maryland lawmakers, don’t gut the polluted runoff law,” Hutchison sings. “Because nobody wants dog poop and fertilizer with their crab cakes beer and slaw.”
Waiter? Check please! The song uses humor to gently influence the listener. By contrast, a You Tube video produced by the opposition, called “A Hard Rain in Annapolis,” borrows the soundtrack from a slasher movie.
“Annapolis built our Naval Empire by sailing around the globe,” the video proclaims. “Now, because of heavy taxation, Annapolis forces residents to set sail for more prosperous shores. On average, $739 leaves the state every minute. Local taxpayers are now being taxed even on their rain.”
You may have noticed the grammatical error in the video’s first line. The city of Annapolis did not sail around the world.
But beyond that, how accurate is the video, compared to the clean water radio ad?
The video claims that Maryland has imposed a tax on rain. Not true. That term –- “rain tax” –- is a catchy and misleading bit of propaganda. In fact, the state’s 2012 polluted runoff law requires fees not on rain –- but on parking lots, driveways and other developed surfaces that contribute oil and other toxic chemicals to streams. These pollution control fees pay for local projects that employ local construction workers and engineers as they improve local water quality.
Ok. How about the video’s other claim: that people are fleeing Maryland because of taxes and fees?
I turned to an expert, James Palma, senior research manager at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. He said there is no sound basis for the specific numbers in the video, or the broader claims.
“There is no evidence that Marylanders are fleeing the state,” Palma said. “Maryland’s population is growing, as is the personal income of its residents. Between 2009 and 2010, the most recent data available, Maryland had a net positive domestic migration flow…Its tax burden is moderate, and it has the nation’s highest per capita number of millionaires.”
The video implies that Maryland municipalities suddenly “now” are being burdened with a freakish new kind of tax. In fact, more than 1,400 counties and cities across the country -– including 17 in Virginia -– have had the same kind of pollution control fees for years. These utility fees date back at least four decades, with one of the first approved in Boulder, Colorado, in 1974.
So the “Hard Rain” video has a hard time when it is examined for accuracy.
But what about the clean water ad?
The radio ad starts: “Keep the weed killer out of my crab cakes.”
To check this claim, I read EPA reports and talked to experts and confirmed that, yes, in fact, weed killers -– herbicides -– are very common pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay’s waters because of runoff from suburban and urban areas. And yes, pollution control systems paid for through the stormwater utility fees can help keep these chemicals –- as well as motor oil, dog poop, and fertilizer -- away from crabs.
Now, to be fair, it is also true that heath experts generally consider crab meat from the Chesapeake Bay safe to eat.
But the Maryland Department of the Environment warns people not to eat certain organs in the crabs -– the mustard or hepatopancreas –- because of contamination from toxic industrial chemicals called PCB’s in runoff pollution.
So the radio ad is not only funny, but also has a solid factual basis.
If you live in Maryland and want to take action to urge your state senator or delegates to stand strong for clean water and protect the state's 2012 stormwater pollution control law, click here. If you live in Virginia, click here. If you live in Pennsylvania, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo by Krista Schlyer/ILCP)