A five-bill package to promote Chesapeake Bay restoration activities, including continued operation of the Bay offices of the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as new support for habitat restoration and other Bay-related activities, was to be introduced in the Senate in June.
The bills, introduced by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., would reauthorize the Bay-related activites of the EPA and NOAA - existing legislative authorization has lapsed - as well as provide assistance for emerging areas of importance, such as the dumping of ballast water into the Bay by ocean-going ships.
The five bills include:
- The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act of 1995, which continues operation of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, and authorizes spending $30 million a year on the agency's Bay restoration activities. That is an increase over the $20 million a year now being spent, but Congress is not obligated to actually spend the amount authorized.
Under the legislation, the EPA would continue to make grants to states to help in nutrient and toxic reduction efforts. The bill directs all federal facilities within the watershed to conduct annual reviews of their facilities to assure compliance with Bay Program commitments, goals and objectives.
The legislation also directs the Bay Program to develop and showcase various low-cost techniques for restoring or enhancing wetlands, forest riparian zones and other types of habitat associated with the Bay and its tributaries. In addition, the Bay Program would be directed to develop a plan for the protection and conservation of important habitats within the watershed, such as wetlands and riparian forests
The bill also directs the EPA to assist the states in implementing specific actions to reduce toxics use and risks throughout the watershed, and to improve data collection about the sources of toxics pollution entering the Bay.
- The Ballast Management Act of 1995, directs the Coast Guard to develop voluntary ballast water management guidelines for ships entering U.S. waters, and to report on the effectiveness of the program after three years. It also calls for more research about the ballast water in the Bay. A recent report suggested that the Bay is a potential "hot spot" for invasions of non-native aquatic species because of the amount of international shipping handled by its ports. Ships routinely take on large amounts of "ballast water" before long voyages to stabilize their ships. That water, along with any aquatic organisms in it, is released at the destination port, creating the possibility of a harmful invasion by the non-native species.
- The Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Resources Act of 1995, which authorizes continued operation of NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Resources Office through 2000. The bill also authorizes spending $3 million a year on oyster disease research.
- The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Restoration and Protection Pilot Program, which authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $30 million on water-related infrastructure and resource protection and development projects affecting the Bay. These include sediment and erosion control projects for publicly owned facilities, the beneficial use of dredge materials for such things as habitat construction, and other projects that that would enhance the living resources of the estuary.
- The Riparian Forest Buffer Pilot Program Establishment Act, which directs the Department of Agriculture to establish a program to promote the development of riparian forest buffers in designated "conservation priority areas" to improve water quality and help living resources. Under the bill, the department would lease the lands for 20 years, and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service would provide technical assistance in the design, maintenance and establishment of forest buffers. Participants in the program would be allowed to selectively harvest trees in the buffer.