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Chesapeake Bay Gets Clean Water Funding; $1.5B More for Stormwater Proposed

WASHINGTON, DC, November 5, 2009 (ENS) – To pay for better clean water accountability and regulatory enforcement in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Congress has authorized new funding to reduce pollution in local rivers and streams flowing into the bay. Legislation passed by the House and Senate contains a record $50 million for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay cleanup efforts, with $19 million in new funding for regulatory enforcement and accountability.

“Congress has clearly recognized that the Obama Administration’s commitment to reduce pollution from all sources will place additional demands on both the EPA and the states,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.

“With this funding, significantly higher than the administration requested, EPA will be accountable to ensure that pollution reductions promised are actually delivered,” he said.

Language in the Interior and Environment appropriations bill says the funding must “support additional regulatory and accountability programs to control urban, suburban and agricultural runoff in the watershed.”

“Maryland’s communities want to do the right thing by the environment, but they can’t do it on their own. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to put money in the federal checkbook that creates jobs, builds communities, and takes care of our environment,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who sits on the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “I will always fight for the bay and the lives and livelihoods that depend on it.”

Heavily populated, Stony Creek in Maryland flows into Chesapeake Bay. (Photo cc-by-sa, Andrew Bossi, Flickr)

“For too long, the federal-state partnership to restore the bay has issued ambitious goals, but yielded too little action to actually improve the bay,” said Congressman Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat who sits on the Interior Subcommittee and played a key role in the funding increase.

“Starting with the Obama administration’s new Executive Order, the updated agreement on the bay, and now the conference agreement on the Interior and Environment appropriations bill, we have the commitment and a down payment on the money to meet the goals,” said Moran.

On May 12, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that requires federal agencies to create and implement effective strategies to restore water quality in the beleaguered bay.

“In the Senate, we are extremely fortunate to have Senator Mikulski’s leadership, which has been a cornerstone of bay restoration efforts in the Senate for more than 20 years,” Baker said. “In the House, Congressman Moran has become an extremely effective voice for reducing pollution and restoring the bay. They both deserve recognition for this action.”

The legislation also contains $2 million for the Chesapeake Forestry Stewardship Program, a $1.2 million grant for the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, a $500,000 grant to reduce stormwater runoff in Alexandria, Virginia, and a $750,000 grant to upgrade Rockville, Maryland’s sewer system.

More legislative help for the Chesapeake Bay is in the pipeline in the form of the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Act of 2009.

On October 19, Congressional Democrats Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elijah Cummings, both of Maryland, introduced legislation that they say would put federal muscle and money behind the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

“This is a major moment, really the most significant advancement in the Chesapeake Bay in the last 25 years,” Cardin said during a press conference, backed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant.

The parallel bills, introduced in the Senate on October 19 and the House on October 20, would give the U.S. EPA more authority to hold bay area states accountable for meeting pollution reduction goals, and the power to punish the states by withholding federal funds if the states break their promises.

This is significant, because three interstate agreements between the EPA and states to clean up the Bay have failed over the last quarter century. The states did not meet a deadline to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality by 2000, and have said they will also fail to meet a second deadline of 2010.

“Despite being informed by conclusive scientific evidence of what is wrong, the many voluntary agreements that have been signed with so much fanfare over the past quarter century have all failed to accomplish their shared objective of truly cleaning up the bay,” said Cummings.

The bill would provide new tools for controlling stormwater runoff, the only broad category of pollution that is increasing in the bay watershed. And the legislation would authorize $1.5 billion in new federal grants to build better stormwater control systems.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said that, while pollution from farms and sewage treatment plants has decreased, runoff pollution from development keeps rising.

“Stormwater is going in the wrong direction, and there is no reason for it,” said O’Malley. “We know the science, we know the technical things that can be done. But we also know that it costs some money to keep stormwater from overflowing into our rivers and streams.”

“We recognize this bill to be tough,” said Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Bryant. “It has internal deadlines … and will hold everyone accountable.”

The bill would not create new federal regulations to control specific kinds of pollution, but would instead give states targets they will have to meet, and give the states freedom to decide how they want to meet those goals. One option outlined in the legislation would be a pollution credit trading system that could lower the cost of meeting pollution reduction goals.

The parallel bills set a firm deadline of 2025 for states to have all necessary programs in place to meet Chesapeake Bay water quality restoration goals. And the legislation would require states to show the federal government they are making progress toward meeting these goals every two years, starting in 2014.

“This is the most important Bay legislation in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s history. If passed, it will be a new day for the Chesapeake Bay,” said Baker. “This legislation requires action replace words. It will reduce pollution in the Bay and the rivers and streams by requiring accountability, milestones, and severe consequences for failure.”

The bills are now being considered by committees in the House and Senate.

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