by Alicia Pimental
August 01, 2008
Testimony provided at a congressional hearing this week acknowledged the Chesapeake Bay Program’s progress in improving restoration efforts and focused on the continuing challenges to restoring water quality throughout the watershed.
The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, held the hearing to gather testimony on recommendations for protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay from a variety of interested parties, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and other stakeholder organizations.
The hearing specifically focused on the Chesapeake Bay Program, with members of Congress and witnesses offering strong support for the value of the Bay Program and its full range of partners throughout the watershed.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said the Chesapeake Bay Program is “absolutely essential to those efforts” to restore the Bay.
Several participants commented that the Bay Program is a model of the science and collaboration needed for such a massive restoration effort.
“The Bay Program is the best of its kind in the nation and the world,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “…you must invest in the best.”
The Chesapeake Bay Program’s recent report to Congress, titled Strengthening the Management, Coordination and Accountability of the Chesapeake Bay Program, was also highlighted during the hearing. Outlined in the report is the Chesapeake Action Plan (CAP), which features tools that can strengthen and expand partnerships in the watershed, enhance coordination of restoration activities and increase the collective accountability for protecting the Bay.
The CAP responds to 2005 recommendations of the GAO and also addresses report language accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 that directed the Bay Program to create a Chesapeake Bay action plan for the remaining years of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
"We are listening and we believe we and our partners are responding to concerns and criticisms," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.
Testimony on the CAP submitted by the Government Accountability Office stated “The Bay Program has made important progress, and we believe that these initial steps will enable better management of the restoration effort. However, additional actions are needed to ensure the restoration effort is moving forward in the most cost-effective manner.”
During the hearing, witnesses outlined the tremendous challenges in the Bay watershed that hamper restoration progress. These include the impacts of continued population growth and development, from 130,000 new watershed residents each year to the loss of 100 acres of forest every day. Many witnesses also spoke of the difficulty in controlling pollution from agricultural sources, but added that the $188 million in new funding from the 2008 Farm Bill should allow for progress toward meeting goals.
Because restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is such an enormous and complex task, participants in the hearing questioned if the Bay Program and its partners had the necessary authorities, resources and tools, including the ability to engage local governments in restoration work.
Wade Najjum, of the EPA Inspector General’s Office, said “Given its limited financial resources and regulatory authority, EPA’s greatest role will be in facilitating and motivating states and local governments and watershed groups to address the challenges and consider the sacrifices that will be required.”
Other witnesses also testified that actions by all levels of government are critical to restoring the Bay.
“While we at the EPA have a critically important role ... so much of the implementation will need to occur at the local level and the state level,” Grumbles said.
With knowledge of the watershed’s problems and solutions, the Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners have made implementation of restoration activities the top priority.
“There is frankly little more we need to know about the Bay to know what actions to take,” said Bill Matuszeski, former director of the Bay Program.
Also at the hearing, Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.) announced that he is introducing a bill that would set requirements for budget coordination and adaptive management for Bay restoration.
View video of the hearing.
Read the testimony of witnesses:
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.)
Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.)
Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water
Anu K. Mittal, Government Accountability Office
Wade Najjum, EPA Inspector General’s Office
Don F. Boesch, Ph.D, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
J. Charles Fox, Pew Foundation
Roy Hoagland, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
William Matuszeski, retired director, Chesapeake Bay Program
W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr., former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and state senator
Ann Swanson, Chesapeake Bay Commission