Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, made some of her first public comments about the Chesapeake Bay watershed at a press conference this morning, where $9.2 million worth of grants for Bay projects were announced.

McCarthy’s comments followed remarks by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), who she said was one of the first to press her on getting to know Chesapeake Bay issues.

“I can remember, even in my early confirmation to become the (EPA’s) assistant administrator here, that I had to learn Chesapeake issues, because there was no way I was getting left off the hook,” McCarthy said, her thick Boston accent coming through.

McCarthy has been EPA Administrator, a  presidentially appointed position, for just over 100 days, including the 16 days that the EPA was largely shutdown along with the rest of the federal government.  Many in the Chesapeake Bay community have been waiting for her to more thoroughly sound off on the watershed in the District’s backyard.

With $6 million invested, the EPA is the largest funder of the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund Grants that were announced today. Those funds, along with others that totaled $9.2 million, are administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Program. The nonprofits and local governments receiving them are providing more than $14 million in matching funds for their projects, which range from restoring tidal wetlands along the Anacostia River to replacing asphalt with permeable pavement.

McCarthy said that such matching funds make investing in Chesapeake Bay projects like these worthwhile “even in times when the funding is tight.”

“This is the way we want to spend limited federal dollars. This is why the Chesapeake is so important,” McCarthy said, adding that investments in this region are not only in projects but also in a “way of life.”

She said that the Stewardship Fund, in a little over a decade, has leveraged more than $190 million in other funds toward on-the-ground restoration projects.

“That is an incredible return on the funding,” McCarthy said.

She then pivoted to address a broader issue and “folks on the Hill” who wonder what EPA money is spent on, using the Chesapeake as an example. She said EPA money “is spent wisely and is used not as a handout but as an investment, an investment in the future as well as the present.”

McCarthy added that programs like the Stewardship Fund are an ideal investment for the EPA because they are based on partnerships with the local community and private sector — and they have a visible impact on the environment and its residents.

“EPA is not about supporting the EPA,” McCarthy said in closing. “EPA is about supporting communities, supporting American families. These projects are basically tying together people who care about the Chesapeake and finding a way to get them together.”