Last week, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of the City of Renton in a landmark case regarding storm water fees owed to the city by the United States of America.
Storm water charges are used for reducing or eliminating flooding and for cleaning or reducing the amount of contaminates and pollution that are discharged into our waterways. Storm water charges are paid by real property owners and are based on the amount of impervious surfaces on the property and the intensity of the storm water runoff. As a result of this ruling, the City of Renton may receive up to $30,000 in past due storm water fees from BPA.
In 2009 the federal government stopped paying their storm water fees for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) electricity site in Renton, Washington and later sued Renton claiming that it did not have to pay its storm water fees. The federal government also wanted to recover the fees that it had previously paid Renton. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington agreed with Renton and ruled that pursuant to Congress’s intent and since 1977 and the Clean Water Act, the federal government has to comply with all state and local requirements regarding reducing water pollution including the payment of reasonable service charges.
The Court also stated that the storm water amendment was a clarification rather than a substantive amendment to the Clean Water Act and rejected the defense of the United States that the service charges for storm water are taxes. It ruled that calling fees a tax does not insulate the federal government from its responsibility to pay reasonable service charges for storm water control and abatement under the Clean Water Act.
And finally the Court rejected the federal government’s claim that it had not asked for a service or benefit and stated the Clean Water Act does not require that the federal government request a service or actually receive a benefit. The Court found that the federal government is responsible for charges imposed prior to January 4, 2011, based on the intent of Congress.
“Payment of these reasonable service charges will give Renton, and every other state or local government, the authority to make the federal government accountable for their fair share of storm water abatement costs,” said Mayor Denis Law.
There are several federal buildings in Renton including BPA, two post offices, the Federal Reserve, and potentially an FAA site that generate pollute storm water and would be responsible for the costs to help control, abate or treat and then redistribute the storm water into our waterways.
“This case has national implications,” said City Attorney Larry Warren. “Every jurisdiction in the United States that has a federal facility will be impacted by this decision today.”
*Editor's Note: Information provided by the City of Renton.