Bay Journal

Cardin sees fights ahead in DC to protect Bay cleanup progress

  • By Timothy B. Wheeler on December 05, 2016
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, right, discusses environmental issues in upcoming Trump administration at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Seated with him were Will Baker, Bay Foundation president, and Peter Marx of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. (Timothy B. Wheeler)

Warning that the Chesapeake Bay is at risk, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin asked environmental groups to help him fend off moves expected by the incoming Trump administration and the next Congress that he warned could undermine the long-running efforts to restore the nation’s largest estuary.

Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who has long been active with environmental issues, met at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation offices in Annapolis Monday with leaders from state conservation groups to preview likely efforts to shift federal policy in the coming year. He counseled them to enlist local and state officials around the Bay watershed, including Republicans, to communicate to leaders in Washington that the Chesapeake restoration effort Is working and needs to continue.

Cardin warned that the Bay restoration effort is “under direct assault” by national farm and builder groups opposed to the role the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has played in forcing states to reduce their nutrient pollution of the Chesapeake.

Judges with the U.S. District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals have upheld EPA’s authority to enforce the Bay “total maximum daily load,” or pollution diet. The Supreme Court earlier this year declined to hear an appeal by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which had support from the National Association of Home Builders and several states. But Cardin predicted that with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the Farm Bureau and others would make another attempt to block EPA from enforcing the Bay TMDL. Myron Ebell, tapped by President-elect Trump to oversee environmental transition efforts, has written in support of the Farm Bureau’s challenge of the Bay TMDL.

Cardin urged the Maryland environmental leaders to impress upon national green groups the need to support the Bay restoration.

“You’ve got to get national folks understanding … the Chesapeake Bay is unique,” he said. “There’s not another watershed like our watershed.”

While national environmental leaders may think TMDLs are “not such a big deal,” Cardin said, “to us, it’s life or death.”

Local and state officials have worked together for years to set the Bay pollution reduction goals and determine how best to achieve them, the Maryland senator said. But with the TMDL, EPA holds everyone accountable, he said. “There’s got to be accountability,” he said.

Outside of the move to strip EPA’s authority to enforce TMDLs, Cardin said he didn’t expect any direct assaults on the Bay restoration effort in the coming year. But he warned that the cleanup effort could be impacted by partisan debates over national environmental policy, by Republican budgetary shifts and by expected moves to roll back Obama administration regulations on climate change, clean water and clean air.

“We need to recognize we’re going to have local problems because of national issues,” Cardin said.

Cardin noted that in the past eight years, with the support of the White House, congressional Democrats have managed to limit efforts by Republicans to cut federal spending on environmental regulations or initiatives they oppose. But with a Republican in the White House, Cardin warned that the Democrats may not be able to stem as many rollbacks now.

Unlike Republican leaders, who vowed to oppose every effort of the Obama administration, Cardin said Democrats would not seek to disrupt the incoming Trump administration just to keep it from accomplishing anything. He said Democrats would seek to find issues on which they could cooperate, such as the proposed initiative to conduct a wave of infrastructure construction. But even there, Cardin said, Democrats should withhold support unless and until Republicans agree to make “green infrastructure” — or projects intended to reduce pollution — part of the construction program.

“I think we have leverage in these programs,” he said.

Cardin predicted the demise of Obama environmental regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing climate-altering emissions from power plants, and such as the Clean Water Rule, which would have clarified federal jurisdiction over disturbances in headwaters and intermittent streams. While those rules might have helped restore the Chesapeake, Cardin said, there’s little Bay advocates can do to resist the political backlash against them from other parts of the nation.

Finally, Cardin warned that future funding from EPA for Bay initiatives may be jeopardized. While Congress is likely to continue current federal spending levels until April, he predicted that after that there could be “disastrous” cuts to EPA’s budget put forward by the Trump administration and GOP leaders in Congress.

Still, the veteran Maryland politician said he believed that while some initiatives would be halted or rolled back, the Trump administration and Republicans in control of Congress wouldn’t undermine the fundamental federal environmental laws protecting clean air and clean water.

“We are going to have to repackage … going to have to be strategic,” he said. He predicted environmentalists would suffer losses, but he said he remained optimistic that they could “protect the progress” that’s been made to date in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

About Timothy B. Wheeler
Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Timothy B. Wheeler

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