Not included in the budget agreement was Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s amendment that would have stripped out all funding to implement new federal pollution limits for the Chesapeake.
Goodlatte’s dirty-water amendment passed the House by a vote of 230-195 on February 18, 2001, drawing the support of (shamefully) a majority of the Pennsylvania and Virginia delegations, and two of six members of the House from Maryland.
It was a significant victory for the Bay that the Goodlatte legislation was killed by Senate negotiators. Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate refused to accept any of the 16 proposed riders to the budget bill that would have undermined EPA’s powers (including one amendment that would have stripped the agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases).
But before you start cheering, consider this: The budget deal also slashed EPA’s budget by 16 percent, which will hamper pollution control efforts across the country. “These federal cuts make our job to provide a clean environment that much harder,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States.
Roughly $1 billion in upgrades to sewage treatment and drinking water plants will be put on hold (including improvements to the Washington DC sewage system that feeds into the Bay). Agricultural assistance programs that help reduce runoff pollution from farms were slashed. The President’s special advisor on climate change will be axed. And, oddly enough, the gray wolf will be taken off the endangered species list as part of the budget agreement.
This last item sets a terrible precedent for mixing science and politics and endangered species protections. What did the wolf ever do to run up a budget deficit? Nothing, obviously, but Little Red Riding Hood apparently has some friends on K Street.
And speaking of imaginary characters, I think it's fair to say the whole federal budget drama became a fable. The anti-regulatory story-tellers in the House trotted out EPA as the Beast that was threatening the Beauty of the capitalist system. The Beast is out of control! Congressman Goodlatte and his allies claimed. The Beast will strangle the recovery!
Never mind that EPA is nothing if not cautious and slow moving, and had absolutely zero role in causing the nation’s economic crisis. The anti-regulatory fabulists should look in the mirror during that part of their narrative. Never mind that, in reality, environmental regulation often boosts the economy. For example, crab harvests for watermen in the Chesapeake Bay rose after the Maryland Department of Natural Resources imposed limits on catching female crabs, which boosted the entire crab population.
The important thing to keep an eye on is this: This fictional story line ain’t over. Congressman Goodlatte and others may well resurrect their assaults on the EPA during the next budget negotiations.
So advocates for the Chesapeake Bay need to remain vigilant, and sound an alarm if the anti-regulatory fanatics try to animate their Boogeyman once again.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Note: To see how your Congressional representative voted on the Goodlatte amendment, click here.)