The House Appropriations Committee has approved a fiscal year 2024 Interior-Environment spending bill that shields key Bay restoration programs from deep cuts but guts the overall EPA and Interior Department budgets. It also halts action on rules important to advancing the cleanup effort. The vote was 33-27.
While many environmental protection and conservation programs face draconian budget reductions under the committee bill, EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and Interior’s Chesapeake Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense (WILD) program were held harmless.
The bill would continue Bay Program funding at $92 million and would again allocate $8 million for Chesapeake WILD grants in fiscal 2024. It also renewed the extra $47.6 million in annual Bay Program funding provided in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The EPA-led Bay Program coordinates the federal-state-local effort to restore and protect the Bay and its waterways. It got a $4 million boost from $88 million in the fiscal 2023 omnibus appropriations deal. The $92 million in the committee bill is in line with President Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget, which also called for level funding.
The Chesapeake WILD grant program helps finance local habitat restoration projects such as restoring freshwater mussel habitat in Virginia, removing barriers to brook trout migration in western Pennsylvania, and creating new habitat for shallow water fish species on Maryland’s Kent Island.
However, the House Appropriations Committee measure contains numerous provisions to block an array of other Biden administration initiatives and regulations, including programs to promote environmental justice and fight climate change, and rules needed to help restore the Bay and its tributaries.
The committee bill would deny EPA funding to finalize the “Good Neighbor” rule, which controls out-of-state ozone emissions by reducing the release of nitrogen oxides, an ozone precursor, from coal-fired power plants and some industrial sources.
Ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, can cause serious breathing problems. It also contributes to the excess nitrogen that fuels the growth of agal blooms that suffocate aquatic life.
The bill would also repeal the wetlands protection rule the administration is currently revising to reflect the recent Supreme Court decision. Wetlands play a vital role in Bay restoration by filtering water pollution and providing habitat for Bay species.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Federal Director Keisha Sedlacek made the following statement about the bill:
“While CBF appreciates that the Chesapeake Bay Program and Chesapeake WILD grants were spared the budget ax, we are deeply disturbed by this bill’s draconian cuts to the EPA and Interior Department overall budgets next year. Protecting investments in these valuable programs is a hollow victory when the House Appropriations Committee would gut the budgets of the leading agencies responsible for protecting human health and the environment.
“We also strongly oppose the committee’s attempt to upend rules to control interstate ozone pollution that increases nitrogen pollution in the Bay and its tributaries and protect wetlands that play an important role in protecting water quality.
“CBF urges Senate appropriators to continue prioritizing Bay restoration by providing the necessary funds and rejecting policy riders that would hinder regulatory work to provide clean air, water, and a safe environment to those in the watershed.”