Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Thursday will introduce legislation to increase funding for a program that keeps pollutants from running off farms and into the Chesapeake Bay and other sensitive watersheds across the country.
The bill, called the Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act of 2017, would increase to $300 million a pot of money to help farmers build things such as manure storage and stream buffers that prevent harmful nutrients from flowing into sensitive watersheds. There is currently $100 million in the fund, part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Congress is separately debating how much the next budget should devote to a bay cleanup program that unites six states in the watershed: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York — and the District of Columbia.
President Trump's budget proposal eliminated the $73 million program, but the House wants to restore it to $60 million and the Senate is still working on its budget.
The Senate farm enhancements bill has one Republican sponsor, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.). Democrats sponsoring it include Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Tim Kaine (Va.). Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) will introduce an identical bill in the House and is still gathering support.
Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture subcommittee, which hasjurisdiction over rural development.
"We're in a constant race against more and more nutrients and pollutants flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and other watersheds around the country," he said in an interview. "When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay, you're talking about a lot of farms in Pennsylvania, and nutrients coming down the Susquehanna River."
Bay restoration advocates say the bay estuary — the largest in North America — generates $1 trillion a year in economic activity through tourism and commercial and recreational fishing and boating.
The funding would provide targeted financial and technical grants to states, nonprofits and private companies that help farmers pay for conservation tools including grassed waterways, no-till cropping and cover crops.
"Financial and technical assistance from agriculture is critical," said Ann Swanson, executive director of Chesapeake Bay Commission. "It can make all the difference in restoring the Chesapeake Bay."