This week, President Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2013. I was pleased to see that it maintained his commitment to a cleaner, healthier environment. While the President has held the line against efforts by Republicans in Congress to roll back landmark environmental laws, this budget is also a recognition of the value significant regional conservation projects, such as restoring the Chesapeake Bay, have for our country.
By supporting restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Puget Sound and other landmark waterways, President Obama has been able to demonstrate the positive impact of the Environmental Protection Agencies’ (EPA) actions on job creation and economic growth across the nation. Locally, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that even in its current degraded state, the Bay is worth an estimated $1 trillion in economic activity. Further, improving the health of the Bay can generate new jobs – a University of Virginia study found that every dollar invested in reducing runoff from agricultural lands will generate $1.56 in economic activity in the Commonwealth.
In his budget, President Obama proposed the Federal Government dedicate $72.6 million to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, $15 million above last year. These funds reflect the federal commitment made under the historic 2010 Chesapeake Bay Agreement to reduce nutrient and sediments entering the Bay and fully restore its health by 2025. Under the federal-state agreement, the watershed states and the District of Columbia, agreed to a new, more aggressive program, known as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), to reduce nutrient runoff and sediment entering the Bay on a state-by-state basis.
The new approach was necessary since the voluntary efforts over the past two decades had failed to reduce farm and development runoff enough to improve the overall health of the Bay. Today, farming and agribusiness account for 42 percent of the nitrogen, 46 percent of the phosphorus and 72 percent of the sediment entering the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, until the agreement was signed, agribusiness had been exempt from any specific pollution limits, while factories and municipalities have been subject to stringent federal and state pollution limits for decades.
These restoration efforts have already shown improvements. One way to examine the progress is by looking at the blue crab population. The Chesapeake Bay is known across the country as a home to the blue crab. In fact, one-third of the nation’s blue crab catch comes from the Bay. The blue crab population declined dramatically in early 2000’s, but regulatory actions in 2008 helped boost the blue crab population above its 2010 goal of 213 million blue crabs.
With the spring months approaching, Virginians will soon take advantage of this beautiful natural resource. Restoration efforts have made real progress, but the health of the Bay’s ecosystem is still very poor. There is a great deal of work to do to preserve this landmark for future generations. I applaud the President’s dedication to restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and will work to ensure the program receives complete funding.