Con­gress must sup­port clean wa­ter blueprint

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - By ALIX MUR­DOCH Alix Mur­doch is based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where she serves as fed­eral pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion.

Ever since Con­gress es­tab­lished the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram more than three decades ago in 1983, wa­ter­shed states have worked in col­lab­o­ra­tion with fed­eral part­ners to re­store this na­tional trea­sure, in­clud­ing its rivers and streams.

Al­though their ef­forts have pro­gressed in fits and starts, the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blueprint, which in­cludes both pol­lu­tion-re­duc­tion com­mit­ments from states and crit­i­cal fed­eral over­sight, rightly gives us con­fi­dence that the re­gion will ac­cel­er­ate pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion and sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove wa­ter qual­ity in lo­cal rivers and streams and the Bay by 2025.

Al­ready, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the blueprint has re­duced pol­lu­tion and im­proved the Bay’s health. Re­port card af­ter re­port card con­firms this. And ev­i­dence in the wa­ter is com­pelling: Over time, dead zones have been shrink­ing, oys­ters are mak­ing a come­back and the Bay’s un­der­wa­ter grasses are cov­er­ing more acres than they have in 35 years.

With so much progress and so much hope, now is the time to build on our suc­cess — to in­crease our ef­forts, not re­lax them. That’s why it was so dis­cour­ag­ing this sum­mer to see the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives add to its In­te­rior ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill (H.R. 5538) a pro­vi­sion to bar fund­ing for EPA “back­stops,” a unique el­e­ment of the blueprint that gives each state cer­tainty that the oth­ers will ful­fill their com­mit­ments.

The pro­vi­sion, in­tro­duced on the House floor by Con­gress­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va., would un­der­mine the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blueprint. It would also un­der­mine the 2014 Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Wa­ter­shed Agree­ment and the will of the Bay states, all of which unan­i­mously and vol­un­tar­ily signed the 2014 agree­ment un­der­stand­ing that it in­cludes these back­stops.

There’s no deny­ing that progress un­der the blueprint re­quires slow, hard work. But with the Bay states on board and the fed­eral agen­cies com­mit­ted to see­ing the blueprint through, the Good­latte amend­ment sim­ply makes no sense.

And, in­creas­ingly, mem­bers of Con­gress agree. In his state­ment to House col­leagues urg­ing them to re­ject the Good­latte amend­ment, Con­gress­man Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., summed up the risks as­so­ci­ated with a weak­ened blueprint: “If Penn­syl­va­nia doesn’t meet its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, Mary­land sees the con­se­quences at the Conowingo Dam. If Mary­land doesn’t do its job, it jeop­ar­dizes Vir­ginia’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion. We have a col­lab­o­ra­tive process in place, and our states have made sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments and im­por­tant progress.”

Al­though the Good­latte pro­vi­sion to bar back­stop fund­ing was ap­proved by the House, it was not sup­ported by a straight party line vote. In an ex­tremely note­wor­thy show of unity, a bi­par­ti­san group of 20 mem­bers from the Bay Wa­ter­shed voted against it, in­clud­ing the en­tire Mary­land del­e­ga­tion. Sev­eral Repub­li­cans from out­side our wa­ter­shed also voted against the pro­vi­sion. Many of these rep­re­sen­ta­tives were from states that are also deal­ing with dif­fi­cult wa­ter qual­ity is­sues, in­clud­ing Ohio and Florida.

Con­gress can still choose to ex­clude this harm­ful pro­vi­sion and fully fund the blueprint in the fi­nal ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill. But they need to know that the blueprint is im­por­tant to their con­stituents. As the Se­nate ne­go­ti­ates the ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills of fis­cal 2017, it will be in­cum­bent upon all of us to urge our elected of­fi­cials to main­tain the re­gion’s long­stand­ing com­mit­ment to the ex­tra­or­di­nary fed­eral-state col­lab­o­ra­tion that sus­tains the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blueprint. We must en­cour­age them to en­sure full fed­eral fund­ing for this his­toric ef­fort, with no lim­i­ta­tions on the EPA’s use of funds in the Bay re­gion.

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