Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Federal Budget and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL

Living within 60 miles of Washington DC has sparked my interest in civics and made me think much more about how the government is run than I ever did back in my days in California. Under the Constitution of the United States, funding for the federal government is provided by appropriations made by Congress every year without exceptions. Funding for government employees salaries and wages is appropriated by Congress for a fiscal year which runs from October 1 to September 30th. Congress may pass "continuing resolutions" providing some interim funding. However, when budget appropriations are not enacted and no continuing resolutions are passed the federal government will come to a screeching halt.

Congress failed to pass a budget in 2010, the federal government has been funded through temporary continuing resolutions. In February Congress couldn’t agree on a long-term continuing resolution that would fund the government for the next seven months until the end of the fiscal year. Instead Congress passed an extension that will keep the government running through March 18, 2011. Unless another continuing resolution is passed before March 18th we may be headed to the first government shutdown since 1990. Government employees who provide essential services, the army, air traffic control, Congress, corrections, fire protection, are required to continue working. Non-essential services will be shut down.

Government shutdowns in the past have been short lived, but the impact of some of the budget changes in the wind could have long term implications for us, our children and our communities. I do not pretend to know where this budget should and will end up. I am watching and thinking, but maybe the latest continuing resolution is an indication of things to come. In FY2010, the US EPA received the largest increase in funding since its inception, 34% increase over 2009 funding. However, the continuing resolution passed in February slashed EPA’s budget by $3 billion (almost 30%) and contained a number of environmental policy provisions seemingly intended to stop the expansion of the federal regulatory framework in a rejection of top down command and control environmental regulation.

The recently passed bill states that no funds made available by the continuing resolution may be used by the US EPA to implement, administer or enforce a change to a rule or guidance document in regards to the “waters of the United States.” definition under the Clean Water Act. This ensures the Clean Water Act be limited to the historic federal scope of the navigable waters of the United States and Commerce Clause authority under the Constitution. The goal of this portion of the bill was to prevent the expansion of federal control to include all waters- puddle, moist land area, seasonal stream, man-made waterway, storage facility, conveyance system, holding facility, or ditch, and prevents federal control of non-point source contamination.

The continuing resolution also prohibits its funds from being used to enforce any greenhouse gas emissions regulations effectively nullifying the EPA regulation of carbon dioxide under the April 2009, endangerment and a cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act which was an effort to implement by regulation the framework of the Waxman-Markley energy bill, which was passed by the House but died in the senate.

Several successful amendments to the continuing resolution target environmental regulations are part of the current framework.
• Rep. Kristi Noem’s (Republican from South Dakota) approved amendment stops regulation of particulate matter under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), The EPA had planned to release a draft proposal later this year. There was concern about this proposal from rural local governments that they would be considered in non-attainment due to common events, such as driving down unpaved roads, wildfires and wind storms.
• Rep. Tom Rooney’s (Republican from Florida) approved amendment forbids the EPA from using federal funds to implement new water quality Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards in Florida. New standards were issued by the EPA in November and since then, the state of Florida has filed suit against the EPA.
• Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (Republican from Virginia.) approved amendment prohibiting federal monies from being used to implement TMDLs or water implementation plans (WIPs) in the Chesapeake Bay.

After Mr. Goodlatte’s amendment was passed he posted a statement on his web site that began with: “For the past two years we have seen the Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take overzealous action in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. These actions have been taken without a cost benefit analysis to determine the overall cost of these mandates or even whether or not they will benefit the Bay. EPA has proposed arbitrary limits on the amounts of nutrients that can enter the Chesapeake Bay, and how these nutrients enter the Bay. At the same time EPA is seeking to expand their regulatory authority by seizing authority granted to the states and converting the Bay Cleanup efforts to a process that is a top down approach with mandatory regulations…”

Mirroring the sentiments of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), as a conservationist, I fully support the common goal of a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay watershed. I also fully support state oversight of non-point source contamination and feel that the conservation districts must continue working with landowners to prevent pollutants from reaching waterways through conservation and best farm practices that enable farmers to responsibly manage nutrients from fertilizer and manure and minimize soil loss from farmland. The Virginia (and the other five states) must fully fund the conservation districts and their programs to fully implement the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act so that we continue to work to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It is a treasure, but estuaries are fragile ecosystems that are very susceptible to disturbances both natural and those created by man. Diverting fresh water from tributaries for irrigation and drinking water supplies changes flow and quantity of fresh water entering the estuary, and impacts the balance within the ecology. Excess nutrients and sediment from sewage treatment plants, farm fields and animal pastures, urban and suburban run off from roads and landscaping can cause eutrophication. As the ecosystem of estuaries declines, species die out, coastlines experience excessive erosion by wind, tidal action and ice. The Chesapeake Bay must be protected and restored. State initiatives have brought very slow improvement in the nutrients and sediment levels in the bay despite the huge growth in population and we need to continue and expand these efforts no matter what the happens on Capital Hill. The Chesapeake Bay is our estuary and we need to protect and restore it, starting in our own homes.

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