A boost in federal funding to help save the Bay is looking promising, as Congress passes the $1.4 trillion spending plan that includes a 16% increase for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, based in Annapolis, is currently funded at $73 million, and under the agreement, that number would increase to $85 million.
The House of Representatives approved the deal, and the Senate is expected to approve later this week. If President Donald Trump signs it, as he’s expected to, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, this would be the first increase in Bay funding in four years.
Funding for the Bay Program is key because it brings together state and federal partners to direct the restoration of the Chesapeake. Its staggering network includes 19 federal agencies, nearly 40 state agencies and programs in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC. It also partners with some 1,800 local governments, academic institutions, and businesses.
The Chesapeake Bay Program leads the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement: the multi-state effort to reach pollution reduction goals by 2025, requiring each part of the Bay to make specific Watershed Implementation Plans and stay on track with their goals.
The Bay Program also provides grants to state and local governments to reduce Bay pollution.
Jason Rano, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Federal Executive Director, says in a statement:
“A $12 million increase is a huge win for the Chesapeake Bay and exciting news for the more than 18 million people who live, work, and play in its 64,000 square mile watershed. It will help reduce pollution in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.”
A day after the spending plan was finalized, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a conservation bill that would reauthorize the Bay Program, expand public access to the Chesapeake, and create a grant program for fish and wildlife conservation projects in the region. America’s Conservation Enhancement Act.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced a companion bill back in September.
The Appropriations package also fully funds, for the first time, the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network at $3 million.
Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn said in a statement,
“Fully funding this program will allow the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office to bring this program toward its full potential and help even more communities, and connect even more people, to the many natural, cultural, and historic resources of the Chesapeake Bay. It also supports the booming, multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation economy in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
Congress plans to pass its appropriations package bills this week before the funding deadline expires on Friday at midnight.
–Meg Walburn Viviano