(Posted by Gerald Winegrad.)
In the anti-regulatory fervor prevailing in the House of Representatives, Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) succeeded in gaining the adoption of an amendment that would prevent the EPA from implementing the long-awaited, court-ordered Chesapeake Bay restoration plan known as the Chesapeake TMDL (total maximum daily load). The amendment was attached to the continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating. It was adopted on a vote of 239-185 on February 19, 2011, mostly along party lines and would block funding for overseeing the pollution diet that caps Bay-killing nutrients and sediment. Worse yet, all federal funding for the states to implement their pollution reduction plans through watershed implementation plans also would be blocked.
This rider was one of dozens of anti-environmental riders attached to the must-pass resolution to keep the government open. The pollution diet under the TMDL was necessitated by the Bay states repeated failures to meet agreed upon reductions for nutrient and sediment pollutants so as to clean-up the 90 percent of the Bay that is so polluted that it violates Clean Water Act standards. The Goodlatte amendment could actually block more than $300 million in federal funding to curb agricultural, sewerage, and urban runoff pollutants. The language provides:
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to develop, promulgate, evaluate, implement, provide oversight to, or backstop total maximum daily loads or watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”
This outrageous effort would undermine the current Bay recovery plan and it is even more disconcerting that with the collapse of so many of the Bay’s fisheries and the critical water quality problems, a Bay-state representative in Congress would propose such a killer rider. The Bay states have known for at least four years that the court-mandated TMDL was coming because they have failed to take the necessary actions to reduce pollution to meet Clean Water Act requirements. Such pollution diets have been put into place in thousands of river segments across the U.S. (Read an analysis of the impact this amendment would have if passed, from Chesapeake Bay Foundation Federal Affairs Director Doug Siglin.)
Responding to this ill-advised amendment, 60 Bay leaders have sent Congress a strongly worded letter opposing the amendment. These leaders include two former Governors, a former U.S. Senator, a former Congressman, current and former State Senators, a current County Council member, two former secretaries of Natural Resources from Virginia and Maryland, a former Secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment, top senior Bay scientists and conservation leaders. These signatories include Democrats and Republicans.
The 60 Bay leaders noted that adoption of this crippling amendment would be devastating and prevent meaningful progress on three decades of efforts to restore the Bay. After repeated failures to meet written voluntary commitments to restore the Bay, the EPA issued its pollution diet limits in December 2010 and gave the Bay states until 2025 to meet them. Spurred by the American Farm Bureau and local agri-business interests, Rep. Goodlatte introduced the amendment. These same agri-business interests blocked passage of a Bay restoration bill late last year and, in January, filed suit in federal court to block the pollution diet. Rep. Goodlatte’s amendment is another attempt to let agriculture off the hook for reducing its share of Bay pollutants, when agriculture is the largest source of nutrients and sediment pollution. Of course like all opponents of mandatory efforts to restore the Bay, Rep. Goodlatte maintains he fully supports the Bay restoration, but….. With friends like him, who needs enemies?
For the future of the Bay, all signatories are pressing the Congress to reject the Goodlatte amendment and so far, the Senate has not concurred in these efforts to block clean-up plans and their funding. I spoke with former Governor Hughes about the Goodlate amendment. Governor Hughes was the champion of the Bay who began formal clean-up efforts in 1983. He found it hard to believe that such an amendment was adopted by the House and asked how could this happen? I could only reply these are bad times for the Bay and the environment with a Congress that is as virulently anti-environmental as any in my lifetime. He, too, signed the letter.
SAVE THE BAY? Forget about it. It will never happen with organized agriculture’s current resistance.
Gerald W. Winegrad is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy where he teaches graduate courses on Chesapeake Bay restoration and wildlife management. He served 16 years in the Maryland legislature where he was responsible for many Bay initiatives, including the state’s phosphate detergent ban. He currently chairs the senior Bay scientists and policy maker group.