Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week sent a letter urging Senate leaders to oppose a House-passed measure that would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its power to act against any Bay watershed state that fails to meet its Chesapeake pollution reduction goals.
Hogan -- who chairs the Chesapeake Executive Council, which guides Bay restoration policy -- voiced his “strong opposition” to a pending spending bill provision put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA. The House approved it last September by a vote of 214 to 197, but whether it takes effect depends on congressional budget negotiations to be completed by next month.
Hogan said Goodlatte's amendment would harm Bay restoration efforts by preventing the EPA from enforcing “policies and procedures that are necessary for achieving pollution reductions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”
“While I strongly support the multi-jurisdictional approach to achieving clean water — which is working — it would be unwise to effectively remove the ability of the Clean Water Act to function as designed,” the Republican governor wrote in the Feb. 13 letter. “The Clean Water Act has been one of the key drivers of the cooperative federalism you now see working with great success in the watershed.”
The current federal fiscal year began last Oct. 1, but Congress — which has continued to fund the government through a series of short-term continuing resolutions — has a deadline of March 23 to pass a final spending plan for the rest of this year. In that bill, House and Senate negotiators will have to decide how much to spend on the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program. The House has approved $60 million, but the Senate is backing $73 million, the same as the previous year. Both ignored the Trump administration’s budget, which called for eliminating funding for the Bay Program and other regional water quality initiatives.
But negotiators also must decide whether to accept Goodlatte’s amendment, which would block the EPA from using its regulatory authority to enforce state pollution reduction obligations that were set in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. The EPA imposed the TMDL in 2010 after the Bay watershed states had failed to meet voluntary cleanup goals set in previous agreements.
Goodlatte said last September that his amendment was needed to prevent a “federal power grab” over the Bay cleanup effort. “It removes the ability of the EPA to take retaliatory or ‘backstop’ actions against the six states located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed if they do not meet EPA-mandated goals,” he said.
Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles called the amendment “inappropriate congressional interference” in the Bay effort and said Hogan’s letter reflects the view of other states in the watershed.
“States have different views and different perspectives,” he said, “but all of the states have been supportive of the TMDL moving forward and recognize that the EPA has an important role to play in it.”
The EPA annually reviews each of the six Bay watershed states’ efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution as called for in the 2010 plan. If any state fails to meet its milestones and hasn’t done enough to get on track, agency officials have warned they’ll take backstop actions. Those can range from withholding federal funds to imposing regulations on smaller farm animal operations or tightening discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants. The agency has twice temporarily withheld funds from Pennsylvania because of its shortfalls.
“We need to have an interstate umpire,” Grumbles said. “We need to have the EPA very much engaged, and hopefully, that provision that passed the House will not get traction.”
In his letter, Hogan also expressed support for funding the Bay Program at the $73 million level recommended by the Senate for the coming year. The letter went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.
Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, issued a statement praising Hogan for opposing the Goodlatte amendment, which she said would undermine the Bay cleanup effort. She also thanked Hogan for supporting current funding levels for the Bay Program.