Chesapeake Bay Program Will Get Highest Level of Funding Ever

Friday, May 20, 2011

One year ago, President Obama signed an executive order directing the federal government to take the lead in the faltering effort to control the pollution fouling Chesapeake Bay. The President said he would do everything he can to protect the Bay and wildlife habitats in the region, and the public took heart that the Bay’s long decline might finally be reversed.

This week, boaters and fishers, crabbers and clammers, environmentalists and wildlife advocates all cheered when they got wind that the Environmental Protection Agency program responsible for cleaning up and restoring the Bay will receive $54.5 million in federal funding this year. That’s $4.5 million more than the program got in 2010 and represents the highest level of funding it has received since it was launched in 1983.

Advocates are hailing the decision as a victory even though the amount is less than the President’s original budget request of $63 million.

“If you were told this after the President’s laid out his request in 2010, we would not have been happy, but looking at it now, and how the budget process has evolved, this is really good,” said Peter Marx, a senior policy advisor with the National Wildlife Federation.

Welcome to the new budget reality for environmental projects.

Marx noted that over the past year the Chesapeake Bay program has staved off threats of sharp funding cuts by several congressional critics. One House proposal called for a complete ban on using federal dollars to implement the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay restoration plan. Some members contended the agency would be overreaching. Many of those pushing for cuts also opposed legislation to overhaul the federal farm subsidy system, which encourages agricultural practices that increase the threat of pollution from fertilizers and pesticides.

Agriculture, for the most part, is exempt from federal pollution laws. To make matters worse, some of agribusiness’ patrons in Congress favor intensive crop cultivation on environmentally sensitive land but don’t want to pay for conservation practices that would prevent polluting farm runoff from flowing into rivers and streams and, ultimately, the Bay.

This month, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay program released data showing that even though the health of the Bay’s streams and rivers has been slowly improving, many areas are still degraded. They noted in a news release that pollution loads in the Bay rose in 2010 because there was more rain, snow, and river flow.

An EWG investigation in December highlighted the failure of past attempts to limit phosphorus pollution, a central cause of the growing dead zones in Chesapeake Bay.

In another piece of good news, the USDA Chesapeake Watershed Initiative, which was established in the last farm bill to combat threats to water quality, has learned that it will be fully funded at $72 million in fiscal year 2011.


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