The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to take action against states that fall short of meeting their Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.
The Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill includes an amendment offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, which would block the agency from imposing any “backstop” actions on states that are significantly off-pace for meeting their nutrient or sediment reduction obligations under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.
The amendment was approved by a 231–197 vote earlier in the day. Twenty lawmakers from the Bay watershed voted for the amendment while 18 opposed it.
The $32.1 spending billion bill funds the EPA and the U.S. Department of Interior in the 2017 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, but has little chance of becoming law as written. The Senate has not passed its own version of the bill, and the White House said the measure would face a veto because of its objections to numerous policy provisions.
To maintain progress toward meeting Bay TMDL goals, the EPA annually reviews each state’s nutrient and sediment reduction efforts. States with programs that fall significantly short of their goals, and which lack adequate programs to get back on track, can face backstop actions from the agency.
Backstops can include a range of consequences such as withholding or redirecting grant money, requiring discharge permits for small animal feeding operations, forcing greater nutrient reductions from wastewater treatment plants, and other actions.
Right now, the only state programs in the backstop category are Pennsylvania’s agriculture and stormwater programs. Last year, the EPA withheld nearly $3 million in grant money from the state, but restored it after officials submitted a new cleanup strategy. In a recent review, though, the agency warned that it may take additional actions if Pennsylvania does not ramp up efforts to get back on track.
The EPA’s authority to implement the TMDL and take backstop actions against states had been challenged in federal court by farming and building groups, but the agency’s position was upheld in both the District and Appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year refused to take up the issue.
In a statement, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker, which had sided with the EPA in the legal challenges, emphasized that not only had courts upheld the cleanup plan, but that the Bay was also showing signs of progress as a result.
“Most states are meeting, or close to meeting their goals, and the Bay is showing improvement,” Baker said. “The dead zones are smaller, oysters are making a comeback, and Bay grasses are covering more acres than they have in 35 years.”
The backstop provision was only one of many added to the bill that sought to block various environmental regulations, spurring the veto threat from the Obama administration. But House Appropriation’s Chairman Hal Rogers, R-KY, praised the final measure, saying it would “rein in the federal bureaucracy to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and kill jobs.”
Lawmakers from the Bay watershed voting for the amendment to prohibit EPA from imposing backstop consequences were:
Representatives Lou Barletta, R-PA; Dave Brat, R-VA; Chris Collins, R-NY; Ryan Costello, R-PA; Charles Dent, R-PA; Bob Goodlatte, R-VA; Morgan Griffith, R-VA; Robert Hurt, R-VA; Evan Jenkins, R-WV; John Katko, R-NY; Tom Marino, R-PA; David McKinley, R-WV; Pat Meehan, R-PA; Alex Mooney, R-WV; Scott Perry, R-PA; Joseph Pitts, R-PA; Tom Reed, R-NY; Keith Rothfus, R-PA; Bill Shuster, R-PA; and Glenn Thompson, R-PA.
Lawmakers from the Bay watershed voting against the backstop amendment were:
Representatives Don Beyer, D-VA; John Carney, D-DE; Matthew Cartwright, D-PA; Barbara Comstock, R-VA; Gerry Connolly, D-VA; Elijah Cummings, D-MD; John Delaney, D-MD; Donna Edwards, D-MD; Randy Forbes, R-VA; Chris Gibson, R-NY; Richard Hannah, R-VA; Andy Harris, R-MD; Scott Rigell, R-VA; Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD; John Sarbanes, D-MD; Robert Scott, D-MD; Chris Van Hollen, D-MD; and Robert Wittman, R-VA.