Federal Affairs Office Update

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The U.S. Capitol Building

CBF Staff

From the Desk of Jason Rano

Spring 2020

During these trying times, CBF continues to advocate for the Bay

While CBF’s offices are closed to keep staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, our work in Washington, D.C., continues in earnest. In fact, our focus on protecting the Bay and ensuring the people who live, work, and enjoy our national treasure can do so long into the future has never been more important. Over the past few months, we have held the administration accountable for regulatory rollbacks that would harm the health of the Bay, pushed Congress to fund critical restoration programs, and championed legislation to benefit the Bay.

U.S. Congress

Coronavirus Response

Congress has taken significant actions to respond to the coronavirus crisis and discussions continue about further aid packages. CBF is working with Congressional leadership and members of the Congressional Bay delegation to ensure that future aid and recovery legislation protects the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s economy, helps restore the Bay, and provides and supports employment throughout the watershed.

Our priorities include ensuring

  • investments in green infrastructure and other tools to reduce pollution flowing into our waterways;
  • access to important recovery funds and markets like food banks and other food emergency programs for farmers and shellfish growers;
  • and installation of conservation practices to supports jobs and limit pollution across the watershed.

Support for the Chesapeake Bay Program

Key to a restored Bay is the Chesapeake Bay Program—a partnership between the federal government, the six Bay watershed states, and the District of Columbia. The Chesapeake Bay Program provides vital grants and funding and runs programs to ensure states are making progress in their restoration commitments. To demonstrate Congress’s continued bipartisan commitment to a restored Bay, the House and Senate have passed legislation to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program. While Congress has continued to fund the Program since the last authorization expired in 2005, it is important that as the 2025 deadline to implement pollution controls quickly approaches, Congress demonstrate its continued bipartisan commitment to a restored Bay by updating the legislation.

The Senate began 2020 by passing the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, a package of conservation bills that includes language to renew the Chesapeake Bay Program. In early February, the House also acted in a bipartisan manner to reauthorize the Bay Program by passing a bill sponsored by Rep. Elaine Luria (VA-2). While these legislative efforts are temporarily on hold, CBF continues to work with members of Congress to reinvigorate this critical program and ensure the federal government remains committed to providing essential funding to meet the goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint for restoring the Bay and more than 111,000 miles of local creeks, streams, and rivers in its watershed.

Funding for Chesapeake Bay Restoration Priorities

On February 10, President Trump released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which will begin on October 1, 2020. Congress ultimately is responsible for setting annual spending levels for the federal government, and CBF is working closely with the watershed delegation to ensure Chesapeake Bay priorities continue to be funded, including the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program , the Army Corps of Engineers oyster restoration initiatives, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries and Watershed education programs.

Increasing Effectiveness of Conservation Practices

Before Congress narrowed its focus to coronavirus response and recovery, CBF worked closely with members of Congress on the Farmer Driven Conservation Outcomes Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Reps. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in March. This bill would assess the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices and provide guidance on how to improve implementation to achieve the best possible conservation results. We are proud to support this legislation and will continue to work with members to pass this bill.

The Administration

While the country has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the administration has been working to roll back key environmental regulations, eliminating decades of progress for clean air and clean water. CBF remains focused on these rollbacks and is working tirelessly to protect the Bay by submitting comments and engaging with the administration.

Clean Water Rollbacks

The Trump Administration on January 23 unveiled a new rule that slashes protections for wetlands and waterways that are essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The administration’s new definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ that would be protected under the Clean Water Act excludes certain types of wetlands and streams that only flow after heavy rains or snow. It also leaves out waters and wetlands that cross state borders. This new definition would have watershed-wide impacts to the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. CBF sued the administration on April 27 to stop the new definition from taking effect.

Clean Air Rollbacks

This spring, the EPA finalized two rules that jeopardize our air and could impact restoration progress in the Bay. On March 31, EPA announced a rule that threatens to accelerate the damaging effects of climate change by weakening greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs. Just a few weeks later, the EPA announced it no longer finds it ‘appropriate and necessary’ to limit toxic mercury air emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants. CBF engaged on both rules, as they will drive up emissions of air pollutants, threatening the Bay and the people that live in the watershed.

Limiting the Role of Citizens and Science in Rulemaking

In January, the Council on Environmental Quality (part of the federal government) proposed sweeping changes that would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the nation’s bedrock environmental law. The proposal would exclude climate change from the impacts federal agencies must consider when evaluating major federal actions. It also calls for limiting citizens’, participation in the process of reviewing major government projects, such as highways and the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines. CBF submitted comments detailing its objections to this proposed rule on March 10 , alongside over 2,000 CBF members and supporters.

On March 18th, the EPA announced an update to its pending ‘secret science’ proposal that would restrict the types of science the agency can consider when developing regulations that are meant to protect the environment and our health—including disallowing scientific studies that don’t reveal underlying data, such as the identity of participants. Scientific studies, especially those around public health, are designed to protect the identity of participants to ensure their privacy. CBF provided comments, alongside over 12,000 CBF members and supporters.

Implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill made legislative changes to several U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs that help farmers adopt conservation practices that improve water quality in the watershed. The agency has been developing interim regulations to implement the 2018 Farm Bill over the last year, and CBF has been tracking and commenting on those proposals and working with members of Congress to ensure USDA is following the legislative intent.

For example, in February 2020, the USDA issued an interim rule detailing how USDA should implement changes to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which is the main source of funding and technical assistance for farmers to install forested stream buffers. The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to ensure farmers are adequately compensated for installing and maintaining forested buffers, including a requirement that CREP cover up to 100 percent of the cost of maintaining forested stream buffers once they have been created. Unfortunately, the rule issued by the USDA simply restated their current policies. CBF submitted comments outlining where the rule needs improvement.

On May 12th, CBF submitted comments on the USDA’s interim rule to implement the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that promotes partner-driven agricultural conservation practices. Here again there are inconsistencies between the legislation and the interim rule, particularly around reporting by USDA and the administrative burdens placed on partners.

—Jason Rano
Federal Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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