Under pressure to make even deeper cuts in federal spending, leaders of U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees are preparing to cut $23 billion from the federal Farm Bill, which (among other things) pays for important pollution control projects in the Chesapeake Bay region. Their proposal will be finished by November 1, the day after Halloween.
The big risk is that an innovative program created in 2008, called the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, could be eliminated. The end of this program would come back to haunt the nation’s largest estuary, because over the last three years, it has played a vital role in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution into the Bay.
Without this funding, promising efforts to restore water quality in the Bay through a new pollution “diet” would be harmed. EPA earlier this year unveiled new pollution limits designed to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flushing into the Chesapeake Bay about 25 percent by 2025. But this “diet” (also called the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL) requires support and funding. The “diet” is the Bay’s best hope. But meeting these limits will be more difficult and expensive if the process is undermined by short-sighted budget cuts. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative is one way the federal government can ensure the "diet" and the states’ cleanup plans are successful.
The possible cuts to the Farm Bill are being discussed in a secretive manner, which makes the issue even scarier. Changes to the Farm Bill (a set of national programs that support and subsidize agriculture) are normally made every five years in an open process, with public hearings. But leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees this week will submit a completed legislative package to a Congressional “Super Committee” without such hearings to allow public input. This “Super Committee” has extraordinary powers to cut federal spending.
It makes sense for lawmakers to propose careful changes to federal agricultural programs to improve their efficiency. We all want efficient government.
But voters in the Chesapeake region will howl if they wake up the morning after Halloween and discover the demise of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative. Contact your lawmakers today to demand that this important program be protected.
For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, visit www.cbf.org/CBWI.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation