The first quarter of the year is traditionally the busiest time for clean water advocacy and this year was no exception. As the 2022 State of the Bay report shows, far too much pollution is still entering our waterways, harming the habitats, wildlife, and communities that depend on clean water and a healthy Bay. This ongoing threat is why we remain deeply committed to saving the Bay and its rivers and streams —and we can’t do it without advocates like you.
Here's a look at what you’ve helped us achieve so for this year and where we’ll need your help in the months ahead…
Securing Environmental Justice for All
On March 22, the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act was introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva and Representative Barbara Lee, and companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senators Cory Booker and Tammy Duckworth.
Named for the late Richmond-area congressman and environmental justice champion, the legislation would empower, support, and protect low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal or Indigenous communities in the Bay watershed and around the country. These groups are too often disproportionately burdened by multiple environmental and public health threats caused by polluting facilities such as natural gas pipelines, trash incinerators, and industrial plants.
“All people in the Bay region and around the country have the right to a clean, safe, healthy environment, regardless of who they are or where they live,” said Carmera Thomas-Wilhite, CBF Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, in a recent statement. “I can think of no greater way to honor Rep. McEachin’s legacy of fighting for environmental justice and health equity than for Congress to act on this landmark legislation without further delay.”
We will be working with legislators to encourage speedy passage of this important bill.
Standing Tall for Trees in Maryland
Forests are the backbone of our communities. They help filter our waters, mitigate flooding and erosion, provide clean air and wildlife habitat, and improve public health. Despite their importance, forested lands in Maryland are being lost at an alarming rate. But there is hope! Critical legislation, Senate Bill 526 and its companion House Bill 723, are headed for key votes in the Maryland General Assembly.
These bills would update Maryland's outdated 1991 Forest Conservation Act to better define and protect contiguous forests and tree canopy. The legislation aims to reverse the long-term loss of forested land from development activity and allow restoration efforts to move the state toward net gain of forest cover and tree canopy. It does this by raising the bar for forest protection while giving counties and municipalities the flexibility to create specific plans to meet forest retention goals. The bill also helps combat fragmentation of forest patches and recognizes the important role trees play in urban and suburban communities by incentivizing actions to keep them healthy and free of invasive species.
But time is running out to pass these bills! Marylanders, join us in taking action to protect our trees before session ends on April 10.
Fisheries Win in Virginia’s Legislative Session
Last month, Virginia wrapped up its legislative session and with it came big wins for the Bay’s fisheries. Throughout session, we continued our long-standing advocacy for the Bay’s fishery resources, resulting in positive measures that will benefit oysters, menhaden and blue crabs, as well as establishing a commercial fishery to reduce the number of invasive blue catfish.
During the 2023 legislative session, we also urged the Virginia General Assembly to fully fund programs critical to achieving clean water. Governor Youngkin's proposed budget included funding for key programs to reduce polluted runoff, and both the House and Senate retained these investments in their respective budget bills. Though advocates from across Virginia have spoken up in support of these budget bills, the legislative session ended without final passage of a budget. Stay tuned for budget updates.
Continuing to Reduce Agricultural Pollution in Pennsylvania
As our Pennsylvania advocates know, last year’s major victory was the creation of the $220 million Clean Streams Fund which included the statewide cost-share program called the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP). This program will help Pennsylvania’s 50,000-plus family farmers design and install conservation practices that keep soils and nutrients on the farm instead of in the water.
Accelerating efforts to help farmers protect herd health while restoring streams through streamside fencing is also on our radar. Programs like ACAP will help, but other tools like legislation empowering local governments to create ordinances controlling unrestricted livestock access to streams (streambank fencing) may be necessary to continue the momentum and get us closer to cleaner rivers and streams in the Commonwealth.
We look forward to working with legislators throughout the 2023-24 General Assembly session so that this monumental level of commitment to conservation is sustained beyond this one budget and so the Commonwealth can get on track toward meeting its clean water commitments.
Earlier this month, Governor Shapiro released a proposed budget that includes increases in resource agency budgets to protect the right to Pennsylvania’s clean air and pure water. Specifically, the proposed state budget includes $5.75 million for the state Department of Environmental Protection to hire more technical staff. The proposed state budget is going through legislative review and deliberation now through June.
More than 1,200 CBF members spoke up in support of draft legislation, introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative John Sarbanes, that would create the Chesapeake National Recreation Area. The CNRA would string together a collection of public lands and parks along the Bay that help tell the stories of the Bay’s ecosystem and restoration efforts, history, and cultural diversity. Now that the public comment period has closed, we’re awaiting introduction of the formal legislation that would create this National Park Service unit. Stay tuned for more information.
Also on the horizon in Congress is the Farm Bill. Passed only once every five years or so, the federal Farm Bill is a package of legislation that has far-reaching impacts on farm communities and the way food is grown—and in turn, the quality of our waterways. When soils and fertilizers wash off of farmland, they can smother waterways with sediment and feed large algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen when they die and decompose.
Nutrient runoff from farms is the largest source of pollution to our waters. Reducing it is also the biggest, most cost-effective opportunity to restore them. That’s why this year’s Farm Bill debate in Congress is so important—and why it’s essential the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plays a leadership role in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. We’ll need advocates like you with us as we work to secure critical funding to support conservation programs in this year’s Farm Bill. Add your name to our petition today to show your support for our farmers and urge Congress to increase funding to critical programs that restore our waters in the 2023 Farm Bill. By signing the petition, you’ll be the first to know about breaking Farm Bill news and ways to go further in your advocacy.
Our efforts to vigilantly serve as watchdog for our waters and hold polluters accountable are essential to saving the Bay. They’re also expensive. If you can, please consider a special, tax-deductible donation today to support our work to restore and protect our Bay now and for generations to come.