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Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

House votes to block Bay TMDL, other environmental programs

  • February 22, 2011

The Senate next week will begin considering how to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year, in the wake of a House vote last week that would not only slash spending, but also curtail a host of environmental regulations including the new Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.

In a series of votes that alarmed environmental advocates, House members approved amendments to the spending bill that would block the EPA from implementing the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan finalized in December, new nutrient water quality standards in Florida, and stricter air quality standards for coarse particulates.

The bill would also block the EPA from developing regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from from implementing its plans to establish a Climate Service to help plan for climate change. It would also prevent the EPA from enforcing new guidance to protect streams from coal mining, and block a number of other regulations from taking effect.

Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the bill “a betrayal of the American people. It demonstrates beyond any doubt that the people’s house has been railroaded by the Tea Party into adopting a bill that would eliminate countless safeguards that protect our air, water, land and oceans.”

An amendment offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, which was approved by a 230 to 195 vote, would prevent the EPA from spending any funds to "develop, promulgate, evaluate, implement, provide oversight to, or backstop total maximum daily loads" or watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The TMDL, approved by the EPA in December, sets enforceable nitrogen and phosphorus limits for each river and state draining into the Bay to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. The TMDL has drawn strong opposition from many trade and farm organizations, and the American Farm Bureau Federation is challenging it in court.

In a statement issued after the vote, Goodlatte said the nutrient limits set in the TMDL were “arbitrary” and that the EPA had failed to estimate their economic impact. “These overzealous regulations will affect everyone who lives, works, and farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the cost of complying with these requirements will be devastating during our current economic downturn, result in many billions of dollars in economic losses to states, cities and towns, farms and other businesses large and small.”

Goodlatte called the vote “an important step in stopping the EPA’s regulatory power grab.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker issued a statement saying “the House has voted to undo 25 years’ worth of bi-partisan and broad-based efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay …This vote effectively removes the federal partner from the equation, placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of states, municipalities, and individuals. It is in direct contradiction to the best science in the world, which defines the Bay as a single system that must be managed as one.”

Although the Chesapeake Bay vote was largely along party lines, three Democrats and three Republicans from the region broke ranks with the majority of their respective parties on the issue. Reps. Jason Altmire, Tim Holden, and Mark Crtitz, all Pennsylvanians, were among 8 Democrats who voted to block funding for the Bay TMDL. On the Republican side, Reps. Robert Wittman of Virginia, Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Nan Hayworth of New York were among 15 Republicans who crossed party lines to support funding for TMDL implementation.

The rollbacks in environmental programs were part of a continuing resolution needed to finance government operations after March 4, when current funding expires. The action is needed because Congress last year never passed appropriation bills for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Instead, it passed a temporary measure that funds agencies at 2010 levels.

But the measure approved by the House would slash spending for government agencies by $61 billion below 2010 levels.

Beyond blocking implementation of the TMDL, it would cut funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office by 20 percent — from $50 million to $40 million. But because the 2011 fiscal year is half over, that means spending would have to be cut 40 percent for the remainder of the year.

Overall, the EPA budget would be cut by about 30 percent. The biggest hit would be to the Clean Water State Revolving Load Fund, which makes low interest loans to communities for wastewater treatment plants, stormwater systems and other clean water infrastructure improvements. It would be slashed from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $690 million. That would affect many communities in the Bay watershed which rely on low interest loans from the fund to help finance upgrades.

Other Bay related programs would also be impacted as the Department of Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and land conservation programs were also targeted for large reductions.

Leaders in the Democrat-controlled Senate have said they would develop their own continuing resolution, but they will ultimately have to negotiate differences between their version and the House bill. President Barack Obama said he would veto the House version if it reaches his desk.

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About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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