EPA fund­ing bill would stop en­force­ment of bay cleanup plan

Cecil Whig - - OBITUARIES & REGIONAL - By SCOTT DANCE AND JOHN FRITZE The Bal­ti­more Sun

WASH­ING­TON — A bill to fund the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and other fed­eral pro­grams from De­cem­ber through Septem­ber 2018 would strip the agency of its power to en­force a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup plan, un­der a pro­vi­sion ap­proved in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Rep. Bob Good­latte, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents western Vir­ginia, in­tro­duced an amend­ment to stop what he called EPA’s ef­forts to “rail­road” and “mi­cro­man­age” state-by-state work to re­duce bay pol­lu­tion. The House adopted the mea­sure Fri­day 214-197.

“Congress in­tended that the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Clean Wa­ter Act be a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach through which the states and the fed­eral govern­ment work to­gether,” Good­latte said on the House floor Thurs­day. “This process was not meant to be sub­ject to the whims of politi­cians and bu­reau­crats in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”

The EPA im­posed a pol­lu­tion “diet” for the Ch­e­sa­peake in 2010, re­quir­ing states to adopt poli­cies that re­duce the amount of ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and sed­i­ment that wash into the bay. Bay ad­vo­cates credit the plan with re­cent im­prove­ments in bay health and say its key strength is the fed­eral author­ity that can hold states to their part.

Good­latte said that power al­lows the EPA to “hi­jack states’ wa­ter qual­ity strate­gies.”

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion said strip­ping the EPA of the author­ity would threaten the vi­a­bil­ity of an agree­ment that was reached by con­sen­sus and is work­ing.

Kim Coble, the foun­da­tion’s vice pres­i­dent for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and restora­tion, said “only EPA has the abil­ity to en­force the agree­ment in the event that a state fails to meet its com­mit­ments.”

The amend­ment was at­tached to a pro­posed spend­ing bill to fund the EPA and the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior for the bulk of the fis­cal year that be­gins in Oc­to­ber. A fi­nal de­ci­sion on how Congress will fund those agen­cies next year is months off, and the Se­nate will have a chance to weigh in on the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion.

Thir­teen Repub­li­cans joined most Democrats in op­pos­ing the amend­ment. One of the Repub­li­can “no” votes was Rep. Andy Har­ris, the Bal­ti­more County law­maker whose 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in­cludes the East­ern Shore.

All of Mary­land’s con­gress­men — ex­cept Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings, who has been ab­sent from Congress as he re­cov­ers from heart surgery — voted against the amend­ment. Seven of Good­latte’s 10 col­leagues in Vir­ginia’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, both Repub­li­cans and Democrats, also voted against it.

The un­der­ly­ing bill is sep­a­rate from a stop­gap fund­ing bill Congress ap­proved Fri­day that will keep the govern­ment run­ning into De­cem­ber — part of a larger deal Congress struck with Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump last week to raise the na­tion’s debt ceil­ing and pro­vide emer­gency spend­ing for ef­forts to re­cover from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Re­cent re­port cards as­sess­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake’s health show boom­ing acreage of un­der­wa­ter grasses, im­proved oxy­gen lev­els and re­bound­ing pop­u­la­tions of crabs and oys­ters. Still, most mea­sures still fall short of goals for what is con­sid­ered a re­stored es­tu­ary.

The EPA plan re­quires states to re­duce the amount of pol­lu­tants wash­ing into wa­ter­ways from sewage treat­ment plants, sep­tic sys­tems, farm­land and ur­ban pave­ment. Strate­gies Mary­land has adopted to achieve those goals in­clude im­prov­ing sewage-pro­cess­ing technology, re­quir­ing farm­ers to re­duce fer­til­izer use on fields al­ready sat­u­rated with phos­pho­rus, and in­stalling veg­e­tated buf­fers around paved ar­eas to re­duce stormwa­ter runoff.

Coble said the foun­da­tion will be work­ing with se­na­tors from the six wa­ter­shed states to en­sure the amend­ment isn’t in­cluded in the up­per cham­ber’s ap­pro­pri­a­tions leg­is­la­tion.

Good­latte ar­gued the leg­is­la­tion will give states more flex­i­bil­ity in achiev­ing bay cleanup goals.

He said the mea­sure is in line with a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion move to re­scind an EPA rule es­tab­lished un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2015 that ex­pands the def­i­ni­tion of what bod­ies of wa­ter fall un­der fed­eral over­sight. EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt an­nounced a pro­posal this sum­mer to re­peal that ex­panded def­i­ni­tion.

“The bay is a na­tional trea­sure and I want to see it re­stored,” he said. “In or­der the achieve this goal, the states and the EPA must work to­gether.”

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

A re­cently-in­tro­duced amend­ment to an EPA fund­ing bill would strip the agency of its power to en­force a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup plan.

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