This hearing of the subcommittee on water and wildlife of the Committee on Environment and Public Works will come to order.
Today’s hearing will focus on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the status of the restoration effort, and recommendations about what can be done to accelerate progress. We will hear from two panels of witnesses.
This will be the first in a series of hearings I intend to hold as the subcommittee prepares legislation to reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program under Section 117 of the Clean Water Act.
The United Nation’s Ramsar Convention recognizes the Chesapeake as an ecological region of global significance. The Bay has been called a “National Treasure” by American Presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. In Maryland, it is the economic, environmental, cultural and historic heart of the state.
The Chesapeake Bay is also in trouble.
A recent report from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science finds that the ecological health of the Chesapeake Bay remains poor. The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are unhealthy primarily because of pollution from excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the water.
The main sources of these pollutants are
• urban and suburban runoff,
• wastewater from sewage treatment plants, and
• airborne contaminants.
The Bay continues to have poor water quality, degraded habitats and low populations of many species of fish and shellfish.
What is to be done?
We must first recognize that the Chesapeake Bay Program has played a critical role in stemming the tide of pollution. The Bay Program is a model for the National Estuaries Programs that are helping curb pollution from Casco Bay in Maine to San Francisco Estuary in California. Any success that these programs have had is because, like the Chesapeake Bay Program,
• they focus on the entire watershed,
• they involve all the key stakeholders, and
• they are based on sound science.
The population of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has grown from 12 million when the Program started 25 years ago to over 17 million residents today. That’s a 40 percent increase. And it is not just more people producing more pollution.
The amounts of impervious surfaces, the hardened landscapes that funnel polluted water into our streams and rivers and eventually the Bay, have increased by about 100 percent over the same time frame.
We are losing an astounding 100 acres of forest lands every day in the Bay watershed.
Simply put, there are millions more of us, and the size of our impact on the Bay watershed has grown twice as fast as our population rate. Without the Bay Program, the health of the Chesapeake would undoubtedly be worse than it is.
But barely holding our own is not good enough. And so merely fine tuning the Bay Program will not be good enough either. We need some significant changes if we want significant improvements. And we do.
Everywhere I go there is a strong desire to see the Chesapeake restored. People are ready to take action to control pollution, restore water quality and see the living resources of the Bay return in abundance.
Much of the pollution to the Bay still comes from our agricultural lands. Are the major increases in Chesapeake conservation funding that we wrote into the Farm Bill going to be sufficient to dramatically reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from farms? Will additional efforts be required as well?
Every day, polluted water runs off our streets and roof tops. Polluted stormwater runoff is not the largest part of the problem, but it is the only source sector of pollution that is still growing. What can cities and towns do to control this growing problem, and how can they pay for it?
Nitrogen oxides from air pollution are washed out of our skies daily, showering the Bay Watershed with excess nitrogen pollution.
Are planned programs to reduce air pollution stringent enough to curb this hidden source of nutrient pollution to the Bay?
Wastewater treatment plants are an obvious source of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that is fouling the Bay. Do permit requirements need to be based on the limits of technology? Should they apply to every sewage treatment plant in the watershed, regardless of size or location?
Pollution alone is not the problem. We don’t have enough blue crabs and native oysters, in part because we haven’t managed our fisheries very well.
For example, are we taking too many menhaden out of the Bay to turn them into fish oil dietary supplements, thereby losing their natural filtering capacity in the process?
Do we have enough forage fish to keep our rockfish abundant and healthy? Does the Bay Program need to have a formal fisheries management component to it?
Today we will start to examine the key issues facing the Bay. More importantly, we will start to examine ways to reinvigorate the Bay restoration effort.
Later this year I will be introducing reauthorization legislation. All of our panel members share a vision of a healthy Chesapeake, supporting diverse and abundant life in its waters and wetlands.
I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panelists today on what steps EPA can take and this Congress can take to make that vision a reality.