(WASHINGTON, DC)—The U.S. Senate last night passed a wide-ranging conservation bill that includes crucial provisions to reauthorize EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and fund it at $90 million annually through 2025. The language is based on a separate bill introduced by Senator Ben Cardin and co-sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen, Shelly Moore Capito, Tom Carper, ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Mark Warner.
The Bay Program is the hub of the federal government’s partnership with Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia to restore the Bay’s 64,000-sqare mile watershed. Since 1983, it has coordinated scientific research on the health of the Bay ecosystem and efforts to restore it. The Bay Program also provides matching grants that spur local investment in cutting pollution and improving water quality in the creeks, streams, and rivers that feed into the Bay.
Despite the Program’s essential role in saving this national treasure, Congress hasn’t reauthorized it since 2005 and the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to slash its budget by 90 percent. But it enjoys broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. As a result, it saw a $12 million increase, to $85 million, in the fiscal 2020 budget deal struck last December.
Companion House legislation to reauthorize the Bay Program, introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria and Chesapeake Bay Task Force co-chairmen John Sarbanes, Bobby Scott, and Rob Wittman, awaits a floor vote.
The Senate bill, titled the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, also contains language authored by Senators Van Hollen and Capito to create the Chesapeake Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense (WILD) matching grant program to fund and coordinate fish and wildlife conservation activities in the Bay watershed.
A third Bay-related provision in this legislation is based on Senator Cardin’s bill to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails network and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Grants Assistance Program through 2025.
Jason Rano, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Federal Executive Director, made the following statement about Senate passage of the bill:
“With just five years left for the Bay jurisdictions to fulfill their Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint obligations, we are at a critical juncture in our efforts to save a national treasure and regional economic engine.
"Passage of this legislation illustrates the Senate’s ongoing bipartisan commitment to restoring the Bay and provides vital additional funding to help the Bay jurisdictions meet the 2025 deadline.
“CBF is grateful to Senators Cardin, Van Hollen, Capito, and Carper for their leadership on this legislation. We also appreciate Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper for their commitment to securing its passage.”