Legislation that would require states to restore the Bay by 2020, ban commercial menhaden fishing in the estuary and dramatically ramp up funding for Chesapeake programs has been proposed in the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, in September released a wide-ranging draft bill to reauthorize the EPA's Bay Program Office that would dramatically overhaul management.
It would also make President Barack Obama's executive order requiring increased action by federal agencies on Chesapeake legally binding, so it could not be overturned by a future administration.
The bill would provide a massive increase in funding to Bay states to implement nutrient and sediment control programs, which Cardin said would help them meet goals five years earlier than now planned. It calls for up to $1.5 billion in grants for stormwater system upgrades, and expanding other grant programs by tens of millions of dollars annually.
"With this generous federal assistance, states will have the ability to set and meet enforceable targets for success by 2020-a full five years earlier than planned by the current governing Chesapeake Bay Executive Council," Cardin said.
A final version of the legislation was expected to be introduced in October.
The bill would establish as law the EPA's proposed requirements for the states' development and implementation of cleanup plans. If states fail to develop plans or make progress, the bill requires the EPA to intervene.
It says the EPA cannot approve a plan unless states have "enforceable or otherwise binding" pollution allocations to largely unregulated source of runoff such as farming and suburban developments.
It requires a "no net increase" of nitrogen and phosphorus from new development, increases in impervious surfaces or septic systems. It would require that all new construction projects of more than 5,000 square feet to create no additional runoff to stream.
The draft bill also authorizes a basinwide cap-and-trade program for nitrogen and phosphorus that allows polluters to meet their nutrient reduction objectives by purchasing credits from others who do more than required. The goal is to reduce the overall cost of compliance.
The proposal would also place a moratorium on commercial menhaden fishing in the Bay-which has been criticized by recreational anglers and some scientists. Menhaden are important food for fish such as striped bass, and also filter algae from the water. The ban on menhaden fishing would stay in place until the secretary of commerce determines that menhaden catches in the Bay do no harm to its water quality or ecology.
Although state and federal agencies recently completed a five-year review that recommended against introducing the Asian oyster in the Chesapeake, the decision does not have the force of law. Cardin's bill would require the EPA to declare Crassostrea ariakensis a "biological pollutant" and prevent its release into the Bay.
It also takes aim at nutria, a muskrat-like mammal from South America that destroys tidal wetlands, by increasing funds for eradication programs.
Environmental groups were pleased by the draft bill. Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker called the legislation "essential to support and make permanent EPA's new initiatives."
Tommy Landers, policy advocate with Environment Maryland, said that Cardin's bill coupled with actions recommended in response to Obama's executive order is creating "a perfect storm coming together this year for the Bay. If all the pieces are done right, we could set ourselves on a path to once and for all clean up our beloved Bay."