ANNAPOLIS – U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., wants to provide watershed states from New York to Virginia with new funding and incentives to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
Cardin’s legislation, introduced this week, would also give the Environmental Protection Agency the power to punish states that fail to meet federal water quality standards.
The bill’s inclusion of both standards and penalties makes it “probably the most significant federal legislation for the Chesapeake Bay since the Clean Water Act itself was passed in 1972,” said Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Cardin’s amendment to the Clean Water Act would give the EPA authority to penalize non-compliant states by stepping in to accomplish the cleanup or withholding federal funds. This would provide the EPA with “unambiguous authority over all sources of pollution to the bay,” Siglin said.
The legislation will compliment the EPA’s draft report due Thursday that will outline a federal strategy for bay cleanup, said Sue Walitsky, a Cardin spokeswoman.
To encourage states to cooperate with the cleanup, the bill would also authorize more than $1.5 billion in grants. These appropriations would fund projects like nutria eradication, freshwater and estuarine monitoring and the implementation of cleanup plans in municipalities.
Providing funding for cities is an important step in combating stormwater runoff, a major source of pollution in the bay, Siglin said.
As stormwater travels over lawns, construction sites and roads, it can pick up nutrients, sediment and chemicals that travel through storm drains and streams and end up in the bay. Funding runoff management programs and low-impact development practices can lessen stormwater’s effect on the bay.
The bill’s additional provisions include allowing for citizen suits and prohibiting both the introduction of the Asian oyster and the commercial harvesting of menhaden, a fish that is a key part of the bay’s food web.
The bill sets a deadline of May 2020 for the new restoration efforts to be in place.