December 09, 2016

Cardin, Van Hollen Urge USDA to Prioritize Chesapeake Bay Watershed When Reallocating Unspent NRCS Funding

Maryland officials call for immediate assistance to help farmers comply with pollution reduction requirements, agency to make good on promises to nation’s largest estuary

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) today released the text of Senate and House letters sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack calling for additional resources for family farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who are working to stop runoff pollution. When completed projects across the country have extra, unspent funding, they send it back to the USDA, where it can be reallocated. By investing that funding in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the USDA could contribute meaningfully to the cleanup goals in the Bay states and the protection of our vital national treasure.

Senator Cardin and Senator-elect Van Hollen write:

… Significant progress has been made to reduce pollution from the 64,000-mile watershed, according to a recent assessment by EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. Commitment and collaboration from the six watershed states and the District of Columbia has been strong.

Yet, there is still significant work to do, and federal funding is more important than ever. With the remarkable participation of the agriculture sector, several states have made significant reductions in nutrient and soil run-off. It is apparent that American farmers want what is good for their land and the supporting waterways. However, when farm incomes are strained and matching funds are limited or even eliminated, federal leadership is incredibly important to support continued investments in conservation.

We know that we still face a major challenge in reducing pollution from agriculture, particularly in resource-strained regions of the Chesapeake watershed. Despite recent funding pressures, farmers throughout the country, and many in the Chesapeake Bay region, have shown that the necessary reductions in agricultural pollution can be achieved at modest cost and without degrading productivity. But family farmers, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, cannot undertake these activities without financial help. Executive Order 13508 recognizes this by directing the USDA to be the lead agency to target resources to better protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary waters. In order to ensure continued success of this important effort, we need to deploy our limited federal resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.

We urgently request your leadership by directing the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reallocate previously allocated, non-expended funds to states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

… The Chesapeake Bay TMDL presents an historic and comprehensive regulatory requirement. Reallocating any available non-expended funds will provide farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed with financial and technical assistance to help states comply with the TMDL. At the same time, prioritizing investment in the Bay through reallocation will fulfill existing commitments made in Executive Order 13508 to support priority conservation practices that most efficiently reduce nutrient and sediment loads to the Chesapeake Bay