Legislation that would require the EPA and the Bay states to establish a cleanup timeline, complete with specific annual nutrient and sediment reduction goals—along with estimated annual costs—has been introduced by senators from the Bay region.
The legislation, which would also reauthorize the operation of the EPA’s Bay Program Office, was part of a five-bill package that would step up federal participation in the Chesapeake’s restoration.
“We cannot squander the investments we have made in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who introduced the package. “If the Bay is to be truly nursed back to health, we need to redouble our efforts and involve individual citizens and local organizations throughout the Bay watershed.”
Joining Sarbanes in introducing all or portions of the package were Sens. John Warner, R-VA; Joe Biden, D-DE; Barbara Mikulski, D-MD; Rick Santorum, R-PA; and George Allen, R-VA.
Sarbanes said a Government Accountability Office review of the Bay Program concluded in its preliminary findings that the EPA has failed to develop a plan to achieve the cleanup goals set in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
Although Chesapeake 2000 called for attaining a clean Bay by 2010, the current rate of progress falls far short of what’s needed. States have written tributary strategies outlining actions needed to achieve Bay nutrient and sediment reduction goals, but they have balked at committing to specific implementation timelines.
The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Environmental Accountability Act would require the EPA to complete a plan to achieve nutrient and sediment reductions. The plan would include annual nutrient and sediment reduction goals as well as estimated annual costs of meeting those goals.
In addition, the EPA would have to publish and widely circulate by Jan. 31 each year an annual report showing the amount of cleanup progress made during the previous year for the Bay as a whole and for each major tributary.
The legislation requires that states provide the needed information for the report each January—right now it often takes a year or more for that information to be compiled—or the EPA would have to withhold grant funds. It also requires the EPA Inspector General to audit the state reports for accuracy.
The legislation also calls for the Office of Management and Budget to report on the feasibility of pooling money from all of federal agencies that go toward Chesapeake restoration activities into a single fund that would be distributed across the watershed—without regard to state boundaries—prioritizing actions identified by the Bay Program.
The bill would also authorize Congress to appropriate up to $50 million a year for the EPA’s Bay Program Office.
Other measures in the package include:
- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Reduction Assistance Act. The bill would establish an EPA grants program to support the installation of nutrient reduction technologies at major wastewater treatment plants in the watershed. It would authorize $660 million for the grants over five years.
- The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Education Pilot Program Act. The legislation would establish an environmental education program in the U.S. Department of Education to make grants to schools and nonprofit organizations in the watershed to support Bay-related education. It would authorize $6 million a year over three years for the grants, which would require a 50 percent nonfederal match.
- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forestry Act. The legislation would formalize the U.S. Forest Service’s role in the Bay’s restoration and its programs to promote the expansion of forests in the watershed and to conserve and expand streamside forests. It authorizes a grants program to help local agencies and groups with on-the-ground conservation projects. The bill also establishes a regional forestry research and training program to improve urban, suburban and rural forests in the watershed. The bill would authorize $3.5 million a year for the programs.
- The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Monitoring, Education, Training and Restoration Act. The bill would strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office programs to help meet Chesapeake 2000 agreement goals. The bill would also codify the existence of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program, which provides grants to train teachers and promotes Bay-related education for students. The bill would establish an aquaculture education program to assist with oyster and blue crab hatchery production. It would also establish an internet-based Integrated Observing System in the Bay that would organize and make available to the pubic the vast amount of weather, tide, habitat, water quality and other data collected by various federal, state and local government agencies.