Saturday, October 02, 2010

EPA Calls for $491 Million For Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for $491 million in funding and projects ranging from cutting farm and suburban runoff to rebuilding oyster reefs. EPA announced the plan in response to an executive order last year by President Barack Obama, putting the federal government at the helm of a previously state-led effort. Federal officials urged Congress to approve the funding proposed Thursday.

The plan includes $72 million in financial and technical assistance to help farmers with voluntary conservation practices in key areas; $20 million to the states and the District of Columbia for runoff control; $30 million for land protection; projects to restore fish migration along 67 miles of streams; and bay bottom mapping to help identify the best areas for oyster restoration. Of the $491 million, $153 million in USDA programs has already been authorized. Of the rest, Siglin estimated the increase over current programs to total tens of millions of dollars.

EPA officials announced that plans filed by Washington and Maryland constituted a strong start, but said five other bay watershed states — Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and New York — must strengthen theirs or face tighter federal regulation.  State officials, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about the restoration strategy. The six states are all or partly in the bay’s watershed and pollution from many of their rivers and streams ultimately reaches the bay, promoting oxygen-robbing algae blooms and harmful sediment. Decades of pollution and habitat loss have taken their toll on commercially important oyster and crab populations, other marine life and bay grasses.

In addition to the annual action plan, the presidential order requires federal agencies to publish an annual progress report assessing the implementation of the action plan and recommending steps to improve the restoration process.  The federal strategy, among other steps, calls for tightening of permits for wastewater treatment plants, storm water systems and other pollution sources. The new permit for Washington’s Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant, for example, calls for cutting nitrogen emissions nearly in half, and to help meet that goal the plant plans to break ground in a few months on a $950 million enhanced nitrogen removal facility. (The Daily Record, Associated Press, 9/30/2010)

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