Amendment to EPA funding bill would strip agency of power to enforce Chesapeake cleanup plan

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A bill to fund the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal programs from December through September 2018 would

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 Congress approved Friday.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican who represents western Virginia, introduced an amendment to stop what he called EPA efforts to “railroad” and “micromanage” state-by-state work to reduce bay pollution. The House adopted the measure 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 they say its key strength is the federal authority that can hold states to doing their part.

amendment-to-epa-funding-bill-would-strip-agency-of-power-to-enforce-chesapeake-cleanup-plan photo 1 Scott Dance

The Trump administration has cut a grant funding the Chesapeake Bay Journal, threatening the future of the publication that covers environmental issues across the estuary’s watershed.

Editor Karl Blankenship said the organization is “disappointed that political appointees in the EPA have made an...

The Trump administration has cut a grant funding the Chesapeake Bay Journal, threatening the future of the publication that covers environmental issues across the estuary’s watershed.

Editor Karl Blankenship said the organization is “disappointed that political appointees in the EPA have made an...

(Scott Dance)

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

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said stripping 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 is attached to a spending bill to fund EPA, the Department of Interior and other agencies for the bulk of the current fiscal year. A final decision on appropriations is months off, and the Senate will have a chance to weigh in.

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 Cummings, who is expected to return to Capitol Hill this week after recovering 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 stop-gap funding bill Congress approved Friday that will keep the government running into December — part of a larger deal Congress struck with President Donald Trump last week to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and provide emergency spending for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

amendment-to-epa-funding-bill-would-strip-agency-of-power-to-enforce-chesapeake-cleanup-plan photo 2 Scott Dance

For a second-straight year, the Chesapeake Bay posted a passing C grade in an evaluation by state environmental scientists — a sign the bay's health is holding steady, according to scientists.

The report card issued by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science showed a modest gain...

For a second-straight year, the Chesapeake Bay posted a passing C grade in an evaluation by state environmental scientists — a sign the bay's health is holding steady, according to scientists.

The report card issued by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science showed a modest gain...

(Scott Dance)

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 are falling 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 review and possibly narrow an EPA rule established under President Barack Obama in 2015 that expands the definition of what bodies of water fall under federal oversight.

“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.”

sdance@baltsun.com

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Article Amendment to EPA funding bill would strip agency of power to enforce Chesapeake cleanup plan compiled by www.baltimoresun.com

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