Federal Affairs Office Update

wetlands LYRD Morgan Heim 1171x593

Wetlands filter polluted runoff from farmland and paved urban and suburban areas before it can reach local rivers, streams, and the Bay.

Morgan Heim/ILCP

From the Desk of Keisha Sedlacek

Summer 2023

Bay Leaders Introduce Bay-Friendly Bills Before August Recess

Ahead of their month-long August recess, Congressional representatives from our watershed took the lead to introduce multiple bills to support Bay priorities. CBF is eager to build support and urge movement on these bills once Congress returns from recess.

Senator Van Hollen and Representative Sarbanes introduced a bill on July 27 to designate the Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA), in an aim to create a unified collection of public lands in the Chesapeake watershed as a unit under the National Park Service. The CNRA would increase both the quantity and quality of public access sites around the Bay, fostering connections between the people and the waterways and wildlife. By inviting both Bay residents and visitors to experience and engage with the Chesapeake Bay and the restoration efforts, the CNRA will build upon the National Park Service’s legacy of preservation, conservation, and stewardship.

Bay leaders in both the House and Senate introduced the Chesapeake Bay Science, Education, and Ecosystem Enhancement Act (SEEE Act), which would reauthorize NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, a key leader in Bay fisheries, environmental literacy, climate resiliency, and habitat work. This bill directs NOAA to leverage partnerships to promote monitoring and restoration activities. The SEEE Act also authorizes the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program, which awards funding to Bay environmental and outdoor education programming. Highlighting the wide support for this legislation, the following Bay representatives are co-sponsors: Representatives Sarbanes (MD), Scott (VA), Wittman (VA), and Kiggans (VA) and Senators Manchin (WV), Warner (VA), Kaine (VA), Cardin (MD), Van Hollen (MD), Casey (PA), and Fetterman (PA).

In May, Senator Cardin led the introduction of a bipartisan bill to authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coastal Program, focusing habitat conservation in priority areas including the Chesapeake Bay. The Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2023 aims to combat increasing pressures, from climate change to development, that challenge coastal communities and habitats. The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Huffman (CA). CBF is proud to endorse this bill as we continue to build capacity to address threats to Bay communities and wildlife.

Federal Budget Process Spares Key Bay Programs

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working tirelessly to pass the fiscal year 2024 spending bills before the September 30 deadline. While the spending bills have overall received major slashes, key Chesapeake Bay funding priorities have been spared so far.

The House Appropriations Committee’s Interior-Environment spending bill maintains EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program funding at $92 million, while Senate Appropriations has boosted funding to $93.5 million. Robust funding is essential for the program to lead the federal-state-local government partnership in Bay restoration goals for 2025 and beyond. The current version of the House bill would again fund the Chesapeake Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense Program (WILD), which will provide grant funding for projects to restore water quality and wildlife habitat across the watershed, at $8 million, while the Senate gives a slight boost to $8.5 million.

Both the House and Senate appropriators recognized the critical importance of the Chesapeake Bay States’ Partnership Initiative (C-SPI) and encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to leverage funding for the program. C-SPI, first administered in May of 2022, directs additional funding to Bay watershed farmers to help them adopt conservation practices that improve water quality in the Bay and its tributaries.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees must reconcile the differences between their spending bills before the end of fiscal year 2023 ends on September 30 in order to fund the Federal government, including all the key Bay priorities. They are far from making that deadline and will have a lot of work to do when they return to D.C. in September.

Big Step for a Bay-Friendly Farm Bill

Passed every five years or so, the Farm Bill is a critical piece of legislation that has far-reaching impacts on our communities, the way food is grown, and the health of our waterways. The most cost-effective way to reduce pollution to local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay is to use agricultural best management practices, many of which are funded through Farm Bill programs. A new Farm Bill must be passed by September 30 and CBF is ensuring that Bay farmers will have the funding and support they need to implement pollution-reducing practices on their land.

Before going on August recess, a bipartisan and bicameral bill that packages together our top five Bay-friendly Farm Bill changes was introduced. The Chesapeake Bay Conservation Acceleration Act is critical to getting our priorities into the Farm Bill. To maximize benefits from federal conservation programs, support our farmers, and meet our water quality goals, CBF will continue working with Bay representatives and partners to pass a Bay-friendly Farm Bill. Join us by calling your members of Congress and urge them to pass a Bay-friendly Farm Bill!

—Keisha Sedlacek
Federal Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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