House backs amendment blocking EPA's Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan
Updated 10:09 p.m.
The House voted Friday night to delay the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, sparking debate between agricultural and environmental groups and splitting the Virginia and Maryland congressional delegations in the process.
The Chesapeake amendment, authored by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), was attached to the massive continuing resolution being debated by the House that would fund the government from March 4 through the end of September. The amendment says that no money in the bill "may be used to develop, promulgate, evaluate, implement, provide oversight to, or backstop total maximum daily loads or watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed."
The amendment passed 230-195, with eight Democrats joining 222 Republicans in favor, and 15 Republicans voting with 180 Democrats in opposition. The full CR is expected to be approved sometime Saturday morning. But it still has to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate and the desk of President Obama, whose administration crafted the Chesapeake plan.
Goodlatte is seeking to block a landmark proposal unveiled by the EPA in December that outlines what six states and the District must do by 2025 to clean up the Chesapeake, which absorbs pollution from farms, cities and sewage plants all over the region. The plan would put the bay on a "pollution diet" by putting limits on the "total maximum daily load" of chemicals that can flow into it.
The EPA proposal, the product of years of study and negotiations, has drawn praise from environmental groups and the ire of business and farming groups concerned about the costs of implementing the far-reaching plan. The American Farm Bureau Federation has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the proposal.
Goodlatte, whose 6th Congressional District stretches from Strasburg to Roanoke in rural western Virginia, told his House colleagues in a letter distributed this week that the EPA's regulations would be economically "devastating" to local governments and farmers, because the cost of compliance would be so high.
"Adding these requirements to many financially strained farmers will likely result in more loss of farmland to development, and this could prove to be worse for the Bay," Goodlatte wrote. "We can restore the Bay while also maintaining the economic livelihood of these communities. The approach being taken by the EPA is the wrong approach, and we must stop it."
Goodlatte also told lawmakers from other parts of the country that the EPA was using the Chesapeake as a "demonstration" project and would soon use the same approach elsewhere. "If the EPA has its way, your local communities will also have to find the money for these costly regulations," Goodlatte wrote. "Congress must tell the EPA we do not want this overregulation in the Chesapeake Bay or any other watershed."
Goodlatte's amendment was strongly opposed by many Democrats, including Rep. James Moran (Va.), the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that funds most environmental programs. Moran noted that Goodlatte, as the top Republican on the Agriculture Committee, had "passed a number of bills that aided in efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay" and said he applauded those actions.
"But the Goodlatte amendment to the CR would be a death sentence for efforts to reduce the level of pollution needed to restore the bay," Moran said. "Pollution kills jobs in the fishing, crabbing, tourism and hospitality industries that are dependent on a healthy bay. We've invested billions in cleaning up the bay, with strong support from the public. But in one fell swoop, this amendment would undo all of that bipartisan work."
Moran led the House floor debate against the amendment, and was joined by Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).
The amendment also drew a sharp rebuke from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"How unfortunate that Congressman Goodlatte, who represents one of the states that would benefit most from a healthy Chesapeake Bay, is seeking to torpedo the Bay restoration plan before its ink is scarcely dry," CBF President William C. Baker said in a release issued by the nonprofit.
A committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments also wrote to Goodlatte asking him to withdraw his amendment.
Not every Republican in Virginia favored the Goodlatte amendment. Rep. Rob Wittman (R), whose district includes much of Virginia's western shore, planned to vote against it, according to Wittman's spokeswoman.
Just as the proposal divides the Virginia delegation, a similar split is evident in Maryland. Gov. Martin O'Malley and other Democrats praised the EPA's plan when it was unveiled in December. And Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Minority Whip, said Friday that he was "strongly opposed" to Goodlatte's measure.
"This amendment would prevent the EPA from continuing efforts to clean up the bay, and appears to prohibit any additional federal assistance to the states to help meet their restoration goals," Hoyer said. "The costs of doing nothing far outweigh the cost of meeting these goals."
But Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), whose 1st district seat includes Maryland's Eastern Shore, said Friday that he shared the concerns of farm groups about the rulemaking process behind the EPA's plan.
"This amendment only delays the implementation of these rules -- it does not repeal them," Harris said. "The seven-month delay allows more time for all stakeholders to fully review and understand the proposed rules, have the opportunity to resolve differences, assure a more open and transparent process and assess the effect on local economies and our business community's ability to create jobs."
| February 18, 2011; 1:54 PM ET
Categories: Ben Pershing, James P. Moran Jr., Robert Goodlatte
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