Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Federal legislation to restore the Chesapeake Bay will create funding and incentives and mandate enforcement penalties if states don’t meet restoration goals, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Monday.

“This is a major moment,” said Mr. Cardin, the bill’s co-sponsor, as he outlined the measure on a sunny, blustery day on the shores of the Bay at Sandy Point State Park.

The Maryland Democrat called the legislation the most significant advance for the Chesapeake Bay in the past 25 years. That drew agreement from the head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency over the slow pace of cleanup efforts.

Foundation president Will Baker said the environmental group would look closely at the language of the bill and track the progress of restoration efforts, but he said foundation officials were pleased overall.

Mr. Baker said the proposed bill “requires that actions replace words,” and called it the most important Bay legislation in the group’s history.

Mr. Cardin, who is co-sponsoring the bill with fellow Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, said it will give states and local governments new enforcement tools and create a “cap-and-trade” pollution trading program designed to lower compliance costs and provide incentives for farmers.

The bill comes as the EPA is also drafting a Bay restoration strategy in response to an executive order by President Obama earlier this year. Mr. Obama’s executive order puts the federal government at the head of efforts previously led by the states. Mr. Cardin said the legislation reauthorizing the decades old Chesapeake Bay Program codifies Mr. Obama’s order.

The bill would establish a new $1.5 billion grant program for urban and suburban storm-water control, and a 2025 deadline as well as two-year reporting requirements beginning in 2014 to make sure goals are being met. It also would require the EPA to develop a cap-and-trade program designed to provide incentives for lowering phosphorous and nitrogen pollution.

L. Preston Bryant Jr., Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, called the legislation focused, fair and smart, adding Virginia’s pollution trading program has been “wildly successful.”

The bill would require the EPA to look at existing programs in Virginia and Pennsylvania in developing an interstate program, which could involve farmers and others who currently obtain permits for nitrogen and phosphorous runoff into the Bay, said Mike Burke, a Cardin environmental aide who worked on the legislation.

“It’s pretty much an open ballgame,” Mr. Burke said of possible participants, adding the legislation is silent on whether sources of nitrogen and phosphorous come from runoff of water or air pollution.

One of the advantages of the legislation is that it allows the public to devise ways to reduce runoff, the aide said.

“If you can demonstrate a reduction” in nitrogen or phosphorous “then you qualify,” Mr. Burke said.

Cap-and-trade systems do not eliminate pollution entirely. Instead, they allow polluters to trade credits for reductions they have made. Mr. Baker said that is a concern, but cap-and-trade programs also are not designed to keep pollution at current levels.

“You can’t trade at the status quo,” Mr. Baker said. “You’ve got to be trading to get lower levels.”

Luke Brubaker, a dairy and chicken farmer from Mount Joy, Pa., who participates in the Pennsylvania program, appeared at the event and asked the EPA to make any program user friendly and not interfere with current state programs he said are successful.

Mr. Brubaker said he felt an interstate cap-and-trade program “will open new financial incentives for best management practices.”

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