House Passes Bill That Would Add Money for Bay Cleanup

"We're playing major catch-up," Rep. Chris Van Hollen said of the Chesapeake cleanup. (Handout - Getty Images)
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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008

The House of Representatives passed a version of the farm bill yesterday that would double the federal government's funding for cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, adding about $440 million over five years, congressional officials said.

The $290 billion farm bill, which covers items that include crop subsidies, school lunches and ethanol, needs approval from the U.S. Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, saying that it pays out too much to farmers in a time of very high food prices, but the bill's backers say they might have the votes to override the veto.

Bush's objections have nothing to do with the Chesapeake provisions, so local representatives said yesterday that they felt confident that the bill would provide a significant increase in funding for the beleaguered bay.

"We're playing major catch-up," trying to clean the bay's waters after years of pollution, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "But what this does is provide a historic boost in federal funding."

The idea for an increase in federal spending was floated last spring by a coalition of legislators from around the bay watershed. More than a year later, they haven't received as much as they asked for, getting about $88 million a year in new money instead of $200 million.

But legislators said that the bill would fund several programs aimed at farms, which are the source of more than 40 percent of two of the bay's most pernicious contaminants.

Van Hollen said one program, getting $188 million over five years, would focus on Chesapeake tributaries. It would pay for measures that keep pollution from running off the land and into creeks and streams. These measures might include "cover crops" planted to keep soil in place, or forested buffer zones that would serve as natural filters along rivers.

He said the bill would also increase funding for several nationwide programs that would help the Chesapeake region, among others. These include programs to conserve wetlands and plant forested buffers near farm fields.

"It's not going to give us a perfectly clean bay," said Doug Siglin of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "But it's a great step in that direction."

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