The 111th Congress and the Chesapeake Bay

Yee Huang

Dec. 28, 2010

The 111th Congress saw two attempts to provide legislative impetus to restore the Chesapeake Bay.  Now that the lame duck session has ended, the results are in:

  • The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Protection Act, S. 1816.  Introduced in October 2009 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would have reiterated EPA’s authority to establish a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  This TMDL, which EPA is promulgating on schedule as required by consent decrees and an Executive Order by President Obama, establishes a pollutant diet by looking holistically at all the sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the entire Bay watershed.  In July 2010, as a result of a compromise with Republican Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with significant changes—namely, establishing as the overarching goal the achievement of water quality standards, as opposed to compliance with the Bay TMDL.  Ultimately, Senator Inhofe and the farm lobby opposed the bill on the Senate floor, and it failed to pass as part of an omnibus public lands and waters legislative package.  The Baltimore Sun reports that Senator Cardin intends to try again in the next Congress but that he acknowledges that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives “makes it much less likely any legislation will pass boosting the federal government’s regulatory authority.”  CPR scholars Bob Adler, Bill Andreen, Rob Glicksman, and Rena Steinzor wrote Senator Cardin a letter discussing the trade-offs in the compromise with Senator Inhofe.  
  • Federal Payment of Stormwater Fees.  Senator Cardin and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) also proposed legislation to make federal agencies that own property within state or local government jurisdiction pay stormwater fees assessed as a result of that state or local government complying with Clean Water Act mandates to manage water pollution from stormwater.  The refusal of federal agencies to pay these stormwater fees—for example, $1.6 million in King County, Washington, or $2.4 million in Washington, D.C.—has severely crippled the ability of these local governments to upgrade stormwater management facilities and controls.  In the Bay, stormwater accounts for 17 percent of the phosphorus, 11 percent of the nitrogen, and 9 percent of the sediment loads.  Congress passed this stormwater fee measure during the lame duck session, requiring federal agencies to pay their share of stormwater fees. 

Of equal importance for the Bay: this week, EPA will finalize and publish the Bay TMDL.  Stay tuned for updates and analysis.  A panel of CPR water quality experts will also release grades on the final Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans.


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