Bill Proposes Review, Changes to Chesapeake Bay Efforts

June 18, 2010 Bookmark and Share

Reps. Tim Holden (D-Penn.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced a bill late last week they intend to serve as an alternate proposal for management of water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The proposal stems in part from concerns over a bill offered by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that is set to be marked up by the end of the month and its House companion offered by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

That proposal would, among other things, institute statutorily-mandated TMDLs, or Total Maximum Daily Loads, which could be particularly burdensome for agricultural producers in the six-state Chesapeake Bay region, and override agriculture’s current stormwater runoff and irrigation return flow exemptions from certain aspects of the Clean Water Act. Many across the ideological spectrum are concerned not only about this proposal’s economic effects, but its technical feasibility and the likelihood of its authority migrating to other regions.

By contrast, the Holden-Goodlatte bill, dubbed the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act or H.R. 5099, would restructure on-going efforts to restore the Chesapeake and would set up an independent advisory committee to be composed of various expert individuals from outside government agencies. The committee would be tasked with reviewing past Chesapeake Bay initiatives, many of which have not had the desired effect despite millions of dollars spent, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay modeling tools, which many in the region don’t believe take into account good-faith conservation efforts.

Outside of that, the bill would seek to set up a nutrient management plan that considers load allocations on a monthly, seasonal or annual basis to add flexibility for naturally occurring changes in the Bay Watershed or events caused by nature that could affect nutrient levels. The bill would also allow for a new water quality trading program to be modeled after an existing program in Pennsylvania and set up a Bay-wide trading commission to establish technical guidelines for and oversee such a system.

Importantly, the Holden-Goodlatte would use existing USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) structure similar to that used to implement popular conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Farmland Protection Program and would allow for a “safe harbor” provision for farmers who undertake program efforts in good faith.

NAWG has begun work with coalition partners to seek cosponsors for the Holden-Goodlatte legislation and to attract champions in the Senate who are interested in working on companion legislation. The wide-ranging agriculture coalition is also drafting a letter expressing support for Holden-Goodlatte and concern about the Cardin bill, meant to go to the Hill next week.

For more information about the Holden-Goodlatte bill, please see