Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD), joined by other United States Senators throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, has introduced 5 separate pieces of legislation renewing the federal commitment to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The bills seek to intensify federal activities to restore the water quality and living resources of the Bay watershed and reinforce federal-state and local partnerships to restore our Nation's greatest estuary and this most important natural resource. Joining him in introducing all or portions of this bi-partisan legislative package are Senators John Warner (R-VA), Joe Biden (D-DE), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and George Allen (R-VA).
"We cannot squander the investments we have made in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay," said Sarbanes. "If the Bay is to be truly nursed back to health, we need to redouble our efforts and involve individual citizens and local organizations throughout the Bay watershed.
"Nitrogen pollution will have to be substantially reduced to address the so-called 'dead zones' in the Bay. Significant efforts must be made to restore the living resources, and buffer zones need to be created to protect rivers and streams.
"The restoration efforts will also depend on community organizations, local governments, and educational institutions, which will be provided grant funding to help local stewardship of the Bay watershed and hopefully entice more of the 16 million residents who live in the watershed to play active roles in the Bay restoration efforts," Sarbanes added.
The 5 specific pieces of legislation introduced by Sarbanes and his Senate colleagues are:
Reauthorize, improve, and increase accountability of the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program. The legislation would reauthorize and enhance the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program which expires at the end of this year and would also increase the program's accountability for improving the health of the Bay.
The bill, "The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Environmental Accountability Act of 2005," (S.1490), would add new accountability provisions to the Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort by requiring the EPA Administrator to develop an implementation plan for reaching the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, including a timeline with specific annual goals for nutrient and sediment reductions, associated costs and other measures for assessing progress. It would require an annual report to the Congress that describes the accomplishments of the previous year and the potential for future progress. Also, the bill would require the Administrator to publish annual "tributary report cards" that describe the progress made in achieving the nutrient and sediment reduction goals for each tributary in the Bay watershed. These "report cards" would provide the public with a clear and accurate picture of the progress toward restoring the bay, which is currently lacking.
The bill would also provide $50 million annually to the Chesapeake Bay Program, which provides support and coordination for the Federal, State, and local partners in developing strategies and action plans as part of the overall restoration effort.
"The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Removal Assistance Act." (S. 1491). The legislation establishes a grants program in the Environmental Protection Agency to support the installation of nutrient reduction technologies at major wastewater treatment facilities in the 6-state Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are more than 350 major wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which contribute about 60 million pounds of nitrogen per year - one fifth of the total load of nitrogen to the Bay. The presence of high nitrogen and phosphorus levels contributes to the creation of the so-called "dead zones" with the Bay. Upgrading these plants with nutrient removal technologies to achieve state of the art reduction would remove 30 million pounds of nitrogen or 30% of the total nitrogen reduction needed. This is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing nutrients discharged to the Bay. The total authorization is $660 million over a 5-year period, divided equally at $132 million a year;
"The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Education Pilot Program Act." (S. 1492). The legislation would establish a new environmental education program in the U.S. Department of Education for elementary and secondary school students within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Grants would be made to elementary and secondary schools, school districts and not-for-profit environmental education organizations in the six-state watershed to support teacher training, curriculum development, classroom education and meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experiences. It authorizes $6 million a year over the next three years and would require a 50 percent non-federal match, thus leveraging $12 million in assistance;
"The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forestry Act." (S. 1493). This legislation would continue and enhance the Department of Agriculture's role, through the activities of the Forest Service, in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Forest loss and fragmentation are occurring rapidly in the Chesapeake Bay region and are among the most important issues facing the Bay. The legislation works to conserve existing forests along all streams and shorelines as well as promoting the expansion of forestlands. It authorizes a small grants program to support local agencies, watershed associations and citizen groups in conducting on-the-ground conservation projects. It also establishes a regional applied forestry research and training program to enhance urban, suburban and rural forests in the watershed. It authorizes $3.5 million a year for these efforts; and
"The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Monitoring, Education, Training, and Restoration Act." (S. 1494). This measure would enhance the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office's authorities to address the living resource restoration and education and training goals and commitments of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. It would codify the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program and establish an aquaculture education program to assist with oyster and blue crab hatchery production. It would establish an internet-based Integrated Observing System for the Chesapeake Bay to better coordinate and organize the substantial amounts of data collected and compiled by Federal, state and local government agencies and academic institutions -data such as information on weather, tides, currents, circulation, climate, land use, coastal hazards and environmental quality, aquatic living resources and habitat conditions - and make this information more useful to resource managers, scientists and the public.
"The five measures introduced are an important part of, though by no means the entire solution for addressing the Bay's problems; passage of this package of legislative initiatives would reinvigorate efforts to improve and enhance this most valued and treasured natural resource - the Chesapeake Bay," Sarbanes concluded.
The legislative package has been endorsed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.