House moves to cut millions from Chesapeake Bay restoration funding

(Delmarva Now) -- Since 2010, millions of federal dollars have streamed into the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia under a revamped effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, America's largest estuary.

But that flow of money could slow under House of Representatives legislation that calls for cutting about $1 for every $6 currently allotted to the program.

What's more, an amendment to that bill, sponsored by Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the plan's cleanup targets.

"Through its implementation, the EPA has basically given every state in the watershed an ultimatum: either the state does exactly what the EPA says, or it faces the threat of an EPA takeover of its water quality programs," Goodlatte told the House last Thursday.

His amendment, he added, "ensures states' rights remain intact and not usurped by the EPA."

The measure passed largely along party lines. But 13 of Goodlatte's fellow Republicans voted against the bill, including Maryland's Andy Harris and Virginia's Robert Wittman, Scott Taylor and Barbara Comstock.

A landmark agreement in 2010 placed the six states in the bay's watershed and the District of Columbia on a "pollution diet," aiming to reverse decades of pollution. The EPA has the power to penalize states that fail to meet the plan's standards.

That power is crucial to ensuring that the plan meets its 2025 deadline, supporters say.

"This amendment would undermine this historic collaboration, endanger historic progress we have made, and give states a loophole to avoid meeting their responsibilities under the Clean Water Act," said Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott.

Previous bay restoration efforts, dating to 1983, failed because they lacked such federal oversight, said Kim Coble, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's vice president for environmental protection and restoration. Goodlatte's amendment "threatens the viability" of the current agreement, she added.

More: Report: Md., Va. restoration of Chesapeake Bay 'largely on track'

The future of the Chesapeake cleanup is as murky as its waters once were.

In March, the Donald Trump administration proposed stripping the $73 million in federal funding from the program. While states lead the bulk of the cleanup, the EPA provides scientific oversight as well as grants that finance projects, big and small.

The budget approved by the House would go into effect in December and reduce funding to $60 million.

In the meantime, the latest federal investment, announced Tuesday, promises to deliver more than $12 million in cleanup money to communities in the bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed. That funding includes $275,000 to repopulate a forest in the Delaware portion of the Nanticoke River and $180,000 to protect key land tracts and provide education programs in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

Environmental groups applauded the spending but warned that turning off the spigot could soon cause the program's early successes, such as expanded underwater grass beds and clearer water, to dry up.

“These projects are improving local communities and ensuring the bay continues to show signs of improvement," said Chanté Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. "It is now more important than ever to keep the bay restoration on track and ensure future generations have access to this national treasure.”

Delmarva Now


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