The House is moving toward passage -- and the Senate will soon consider -- a series of budget bills that would sharply cut spending for many programs that could affect Bay restoration efforts.
Bills that cleared the House Appropriations Committee would sharply cut many programs from the EPA , National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Forest Service and the Interior Department which benefit the Chesapeake.
In addition, the House voted to eliminate funding for state-federal commissions that manage water issues in the Potomac and Susquehanna river basins, and to slash funds used to help manage coastal fish species -- many of which are in decline.
Still, some programs have fared well. While the EPA took major cuts, the House Appropriations Committee funded several regional watershed-based programs -- including the Bay Program and the Great Lakes Program -- at their present levels.
In addition, the full House voted to significantly increase several agricultural programs used in the Bay region to protect environmentally sensitive lands, including one measure that aims to restore 300,000 acres of agricultural wetlands nationwide in the next year.
But many cuts will affect programs that serve as important tools in promoting Bay related restoration activities, from water quality enforcement to incentives for forest buffers along streams.
In addition, House bills contain a number of legislative "riders" that give agencies specific instructions about how the money can -- and cannot -- be used. For example, the EPA was barred from enforcing wetlands and stormwater regulations or writing new water quality standards until a new Clean Water Act -- which President Clinton has promised to veto -- is passed.
Critics say Congress is using the spending bills to rewrite the nation's environmental polices rather than to change existing environmental laws, which could prove to be unpopular. Congress' power of the purse has never before been used this broadly to affect environmental protection programs, said Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass. "This is just wholesale legislating. It's absurd," he said.
Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he isn't happy about all the policy riders either, but explained that his party is reacting after having been out of power for decades in the House.
"You've got to understand there are a lot of hungry Republicans here who want to resolve immediate issues," he said.
By late July, most of the 13 appropriation bills that set program spending levels for 1996 had cleared the House Appropriations Committee and, in some cases, the full House. By law, spending bills must originate in the House. The Senate was only beginning its appropriations process in late July. Because Congress was set to adjourn in early August, the final work on the Senate bills probably will not be completed until after Labor Day.
After that, differences between the House and Senate versions must be worked out in a conference committee. The new versions must then be approved by each chamber, then sent to the president for his signature.
But Clinton has vowed to veto bills that deeply cut environmental programs. "By dramatically slashing resources for the Environmental Protection Agency and imposing severe restrictions on that agency, the bill would decimate the government's ability to protect the American people from air and water pollution," Clinton said.
"A bill so contrary to the priorities and concerns of the American people clearly represents the wrong way" to balance the budget, he said. "If this bill is presented to me in its current form, I will veto it."
If appropriations bills are not signed into law by the time the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the Congress must either pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations, or shut the government down until the bills are passed.
Here is a summary of some of the budget actions that could impact on Bay restoration efforts.
Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA was the target of some of the largest cuts made by the House Appropriations Committee to any major agency, cutting 34 percent from this year's funding level. In addition, it attached a series of riders to the bill which specifically prohibits the agency from enforcing major portions of the nation's clean air and water laws.
Overall, the committee cut the EPA appropriation for 1996 to $4.87 billion, about $2.4 billion less than the agency received this year. Funds for the EPA's enforcement activities were cut about 40 percent.
Among the riders, EPA would be prohibited from writing new water quality standards or from implementing or enforcing programs for wetlands regulations, stormwater discharges and combined sewer overflows. Those programs could continue, according to the riders, if Congress reauthorizes the Clean Water Act by Oct. 1. But the new version of the act that has passed the House would substantially restrict federal authority over many of those programs, and has been threatened with a veto by the president unless substantially altered [see June 1995 Bay Journal].
The House would nearly halve the amount of money available for water infrastructure projects around the country, such as sewage treatment plant upgrades, cutting those programs from nearly $3 billion this year to $1.5 billion.
Another rider would restrict the EPA from expanding its Toxics Release Inventory, a program that requires major dischargers to publicly report the amount of various toxic chemicals they release.
At the same time, the House supported funding for the agency's "common sense" initiative which seeks to promote flexible, partnership-based pollution programs with the input of affected industries, environmental groups and others.
A number of regional programs were also preserved, including the Chesapeake Bay Program, which would be funded at its 1995 level of $21 million, and the Great Lakes Program, which would get a slight increase.
Nationwide, spending on nonpoint source pollution control grants to the states would remain at $100 million, the same as 1995.
The full House approved a $630 million operating budget for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which funds the bulk of the agency's field office operations and technical assistance efforts and provides the backbone of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's support for state and local conservation initiatives. That would be an increase from the $603 million appropriated for 1995.
Under the House bill, funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program, which purchases easements from farmers who agree to restore wetlands on their property was funded at $210 million, up from this year's $93 million. A goal of enrolling 300,000 acres was set for the program.
The Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to keep environmentally sensitive and highly erodible lands idle, was funded at $1.78 billion, up from this year's $1.74 billion. With this funding, the program should reach the 1990 Farm Bill goal of enrolling 38 million acres in the program. The program offers significant potential for the Bay restoration effort because recent NRCS guidance emphasizes enrolling areas that benefit water quality and wildlife, such as riparian buffers.
The House approved $75 million for the Agricultural Conservation Program, which helps farmers control erosion and reduce runoff from their land, and is administered by the USDA's Consolidated Farm Services Agency. That is a drop from $100 million in the current year.
In addition, several programs were consolidated into block grants that will be administered by NRCS. One block grant consolidates the Forestry Incentives Program, the Resource Conservation and Development Program, and the Colorado River Salinity Control Program, and was funded at $36 million. Also in the NRCS, the Watershed Planning and the River Basin Surveys and Investigations programs were consolidated into a block grant and funded at $14 million, a drop from $23.5 million.
NRCS watershed and flood prevention operations were funded at $100 million, up from $70 million. The program funds projects to minimize the impact of flooding, including the promotion of tree planting to stabilize streambanks and other biologically based flood control practices.
The House voted to eliminate AmeriCorps, President Clinton's 2-year-old national service program, which opponents said would save $817 million. AmeriCorps has an agreement with the Bay Program and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to help in habitat restoration projects around the Bay watershed.
River Basin Commissions
The House passed bills that eliminated funding for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, two state-federal compacts aimed at jointly managing interstate resources in those watersheds.
But a Senate appropriations subcommittee in late July included funding for the commissions at 1995 levels. That bill still faced action in the full Senate Appropriations Committee and on the Senate floor. If those funds remain in the Senate bill, the difference with the House will have to be worked out in the conference committee.
The SRBC had sought $360,000 for 1996, and the ICPRB $524,000. That amounts to nearly a third of the SRBC operating budget, and a quarter of the ICPRB's. The remaining money for the agencies' operation comes from the states and for the Potomac the District of Columbia.
As watershed-based water management agencies, both commissions have played large roles in the Bay Program, and both commissions have extensive water quality monitoring programs in their rivers.
The Potomac commission has been active on researching nonpoint pollution controls, stormwater runoff and contaminated sediments. It has also been heavily involved in the Anacostia River restoration. The commission also works cooperatively with state and local agencies in the watershed on issues as diverse as land use planning and water supply management.
Staff from the commission has played a lead role in analyzing the tributary strategies being developed by the states to reach the Bay Program's 40 percent nutrient reduction goal. They have also analyzed the effectiveness and costs of various nutrient control techniques that could be used by the states.
The Susquehanna commission has also been involved in research on different nonpoint source pollution control methods, including the potential for using constructed wetlands to reduce nutrient runoff from agricultural land.
The SRBC has been particularly active in developing plans to manage the amount of water that flows down the river during dry years to ensure that both an adequate quantity and quality of water reaches the Bay after utilities and cities have drawn from the river. The Susquehanna typically supplies about half of the freshwater that enters the Bay, and about 90 percent of the freshwater entering the Bay north of the Potomac. The SRBC is the only agency with the power to regulate water consumption in the river.
The SRBC also pays the federal government more than it gets back. Under an agreement, it purchases about $3 million a year worth of water storage at a federally owned reservoir in northern Pennsylvania. The commission then sells that storage to utilities that need to put water into the river during periods of low flows. (The federal government cannot directly bill utilities for water storage.) If the commission were to go out of business, that return roughly 8-to-1 over what the commission gets from the government would be lost.
The House cut the Forest Service's State and Private Forestry programs, which fund most of the service's Bay-related activities, by 20 percent. The cuts would not directly affect the service's commitment to the Bay Program, which includes assigning two foresters to the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office, but it would affect the programs they use to promote forestry practices beneficial to the Bay.
The House eliminated funding for the Stewardship Incentives Program, which had received $18 million nationwide this year. The program is the primary cost-share mechanism available from the Forest Service to landowners to promote sound forest and ecological management. Loss of the program could affect the ability of the service to promote riparian forest buffers in the Bay.
The Forest Stewardship Program, which provides technical assistance to state agencies and private landowners to improve forest management, was funded at $26 million nationwide, the same as this year.
Funding was eliminated for the Forest Legacy Program, which can be used by states with approved legacy plans to purchase conservation easements for ecologically valuable forest tracts threatened with development. In the Bay watershed, both Maryland and Delaware had been developing legacy plans. The program had received $7 million nationwide in 1995.
Also eliminated was the Conservation Education Program, which received $1.5 million this year. The program provides small grants to states, schools and local governments to initiate forestry education programs.
Funding for the Urban and Community Forest Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to urban areas that want to restore forest ecosystems, was maintained at the current level of $27 million nationwide.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office would get a 47 percent budget cut under the bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee, from $1.89 million this year to $1 million next year. If that happens, NOAA will be considering options that include reducing staff and cutting or eliminating some research funded by the office. Projects that could be affected include the 5-year-old environmental effects research that is aimed at understanding the transport, fate and effects of toxics on the Bay ecosystem; its remote sensing program, funded in conjunction with Maryland Sea Grant, which measures phytoplankton biomass to assess its connection with freshwater flows into the Bay, nutrient loads and temperature; and support for Chesapeake Bay stock assessments, which provide estimates of important Bay fish populations such as blue crabs.
Other NOAA cuts could impact Bay cleanup efforts as well. The House bill cuts money from Coastal Zone Management grants to the states from $45.5 million to $36 million nationwide. In addition, funds for the CZM Section 6217 program, which was aimed at controlling nonpoint source runoff in coastal areas, was eliminated. This year, $5 million was appropriated for the national Section 6217 program.
NOAAs National Ocean Services mapping and charting program was slated for a $5.5 million increase, from $52.9 million to $58.4, in large part to help pay for new charting work in the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, the Ocean ServiceÕs budget includes $400,000 to pay for Chesapeake Bay observation buoys which provide constant monitoring information about Bay conditions. That is the same amount as this year, but is an improvement over the presidents proposed 1996 budget which had eliminated funding for the buoys. The committees bill, though, would eliminate funding for the Coastal Ocean Program, which helps fund coastal research, including projects in the Bay. That would halt a long-term study in the Patuxent River aimed at learning how the cumulative impact of multiple stresses toxics, nutrients and other factors affects the food web.
Sea Grant, which earlier was threatened with elimination, emerged from the Appropriations Committee largely intact. It was budgeted at $53.3 million, but had some programs that were previously separately funded rolled into its budget. When those programs are factored in, the research program would be getting a slight cut from this yearÕs $54.2 million. Also, language in the bill directs Sea Grant to spend $1.5 million on oyster disease research, and $2.8 million on zebra mussel research.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
The House Appropriations Committee cut the amount of money available to implement a 1993 law designed to improve Atlantic coastal fisheries management from $3.5 million this year to $1.4 million next year.
The money is distributed among the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and its member states to help provide the staffing and research necessary to implement the 1993 law, which requires the states to enforce cooperatively written fisheries management plans for species that migrate across state boundaries. The law, patterned after similar legislation credited with restoring striped bass stocks in the 1980s, was considered pivotal to the recovery of several stocks that have declined in recent years. ASMFC officials say the cuts jeopardize the ability of the states and the commission to effectively implement the law.
Meanwhile, federal money provided to help underwrite the commissionÕs basic operation increased slightly. The bill includes $600,000 to be split three ways among the ASMFC and similar commissions on the Gulf and Pacific coasts. Last year, the commissions split $500,000.
National Biological Service
A bill approved by the House would cut the NBS, created in 1993 as the biological research agency for the Interior Department, by one-third, from $167 million in 1995 to $112 million next year. In addition, the agency would be transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The NBS conducts plant and wildlife surveys, researches the effects of contaminants on wildlife; tries to identify reasons behind fluctuations in wild populations; studies freshwater and anadromous fish species; and conducts other research related to natural resource management.
In response to the cuts, the service is considering closing several research facilities, including one in Leetown, W.V., which has been active in the past in researching Bay fish species, including striped bass, and is currently working on fish passage issues.
While the Patuxent Environmental Science Center, which has conducted work related to Bay waterfowl and wetlands over the years, is not on the list, NBS officials say the cost of closing research facilities and severance pay to dismissed workers would be so great that it would likely curtail research at the remaining facilities.
The full House, led by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., struck down a provision in the bill that would have prohibited the service from using trained volunteers to help perform surveys, such as the annual Breeding Bird Survey, or from conducting surveys on private land.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report