Lame Duck Congress Urged to Pass Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Bill

A bipartisan, Senate committee-approved bill that would authorize $180 million to help restore the nation’s largest fresh water estuary – the Chesapeake Bay – should be a priority for Congress to pass during its upcoming lame session, according to Environmental Defense Fund. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD).

“Sen. Cardin’s bill authorizing $180 million in financial assistance to help farmers and forest owners meet their clean water goals is a critical to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay,” said EDF’s Working Lands Deputy Director Suzy Friedman. “We urge Congress to pass this carefully-crafted legislation during the upcoming lame duck session. Otherwise, the bill will die, and thelengthy legislative process would have to start all over again in the next Congress.”

The bill, The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act (S. 1816), was approved last June by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – with broad bipartisan support – after committee members agreed to drop or modify controversial provisions opposed by farmers and other stakeholders, while maintaining strong provisions to ensure real progress in achieving Bay restoration goals. While state governments, communities, farmers, and others have been working hard for 25 years to reverse the decline of the Bay, these efforts have not been enough to bring back the Bay.

“Farmers have been critical and active partners in efforts to restore the Bay for decades, but agriculture remains the region’s largest contributor of excess nutrient and sediment runoff that degrades the Bay,” added Friedman. “The bill approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee will provide farmers the strategies, tools, and human resources they need to help them accelerate their accomplishments, while maintaining a thriving farming economy.”

“The revised bill also provides a balanced approach to ensure that all pollution runoff sources – urban and rural; municipal, industrial, and agricultural – do their fair share to make clean water and healthy ecosystems a reality locally and regionally,” concluded Friedman.

The modifications to S. 1816 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee provide new resources and benefits to the agricultural sector, including:

• $80 million funding minimum over 5 years for implementation grants to develop and implement state watershed implementation plans, with a requirement that at least 20 percent of the funding is dedicated to providing technical assistance to farmers and forest owners. This provision is critical since technical assistance funding often is severely lacking.
• $10 million in grant funds for Centers of Excellence to develop and advance innovative and effective agricultural conservation technologies, policies and practices.
• $30 million to fund an agricultural animal waste-to-bioenergy deployment program.
• Basin-wide database for improved tracking of all agricultural conservation practices–not simply those supported through public funds–to ensure that farmers get the credit they deserve for reducing nutrient and sediment runoff.
• Safe Harbor provision to ensure that EPA enforcement cannot target farmers in full compliance with conservation plans and practices required by their state-developed watershed implementation plan.
• Interstate nutrient trading program that offers farmers a voluntary opportunity to participate and benefit economically from nutrient reductions through the marketplace. Participation is 100 percent voluntary.

In addition, to address concerns from agriculture community members, the bill was revised so that the current version does not:

1. Codify the Total Maximum Daily Load (an estimate of the maximum amount of nutrient and sediment runoff that a body of water can receive and still meet clean water goals),
2. Provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unlimited permitting authority
3. Allow EPA to substitute its policy choices for state policy choices.

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