WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Cardin’s Chesapeake Bay restoration bill was approved Wednesday by a Senate committee after amendments were added to address concerns of Republican lawmakers.
An official with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which recently settled a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over bay restoration, said the compromise would improve chances for passing the bill, which had drawn complaints from agricultural interests, and would not affect the EPA’s restoration strategy.
The bill approved Wednesday by the Committee on Environment and Public Works includes an amendment authored by Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee’s ranking Republican, said Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky.
Walitsky said the bill clarifies the use of total maximum daily loads — the so-called “pollution diet” that bay watershed states are adopting to cut their contributions to bay pollution. When the EPA approves watershed implementation plans, it must limit its review to a plan’s ability to meet water quality standards, not the more specific pollution limits, she said.
However, she said the original structure and intent of the bill remain unchanged.
“This is a state-led, regional effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Walitsky said.
The bill offers new resources for states, but those that fail to reach their goals face federal takeover and loss of funding, she said.
Doug Siglin, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s federal affairs director, said the changes don’t affect the EPA’s bay restoration strategy, which was developed in response to an executive order from President Barack Obama.
The bill also no longer contains a provision to expand EPA authority in extreme cases where states fail to reach goals, Siglin said.
Farm interests had complained about the impact of the bill. Siglin said his impression was that Republicans were also concerned about expanding EPA authority and the amended bill now stands a better chance of passage.
“So, we don’t lose anything, we just don’t gain anything,” Siglin said.