Federal Affairs

Why Section 401 is Important to the Chesapeake Watershed


The Clean Water Act Section 401 is one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. Passed in 1972, Section 401 authorizes states and tribes to review the impacts of many federally licensed projects on waterways and wetlands within their jurisdiction and to limit or stop unacceptable projects. These can include hydroelectric dams, pipelines, and fossil fuel export terminals and have the potential to significantly degrade water quality by damming major rivers, destroying acres of wetlands, and causing significant erosion and sediment pollution. With sediment loads being targeted for major reductions in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, it is crucial now more than ever to ensure that Bay jurisdictions are able to hold these massive projects accountable in the Bay’s cleanup.

Section 401 review can be states’ and tribes’ only meaningful opportunity to protect their own resources. States and tribes are able to better protect all types of water use, including drinking water; commercial, tribal, and recreational fishing; swimming; critical wildlife habitat; and outdoor recreation.

EPA’s changes to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act will make it even harder for local communities to have a voice in how these projects affect their waterways or degrade their water quality. It will limit the reasons states and tribes can reject, or place conditions on, projects that could pose harm to water quality. It will also give state and tribal authorities’ arbitrary time constraints that will limit their ability to adequately review applications. Limiting this authority will serve only to create less accountability and to increase the threat of sediment pollution. In the Chesapeake, this could have significant impacts on the ability for Maryland to implement conditions on the Conowingo Dam certification and for all states when it comes to pipelines.

These changes will leave states and tribes without sufficient time, information, and resources to ensure that a project will not harm water quality. Our representatives and each state’s inhabitants must speak out on this issue before the EPA takes away every state’s environmental rights. Comments from the public are critical in this decision and can be submitted here until October 21, 2019. 

The official announcement can be found here.

Additional resources and information can be found through the Southern Environmental Law Center or the James River Association.

Kelsey Hillner is the policy and campaigns manager with the Virginia Conservation Network.

Coalition Members Head to the Hill

We have seen time and time again that when our work for clean water faces challenges and threats, our Choose Clean Water members show up – and we show up in numbers. This was evident in 2017 when the president’s budget eliminated funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and it was on display this week, when more than 100 members of the Coalition gathered on Capitol Hill to meet with members and staff in 40 different congressional offices. This year, we as a community are fighting not just for the funding we have had in the past, but what we need to meet new challenges to restore the rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

On March 6, the Coalition formally requested that Congress increase funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, specifically $90 million for the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, up from $73 million. This is the first time in five years that the Coalition has asked for increased funding and the request was met with much enthusiasm from our supporters on the Hill. In our letters to Congress requesting the increase in funding, we had 144 Coalition member organizations signed on, a record number of signatures. This show of commitment was a powerful tool during the congressional meetings.

The biggest highlight of the day was our lunch briefing, where Coalition members, recipients of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Small Watershed/Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants, funders, and members of Congress came together to discuss the state of the restoration effort and our commitment to pushing the effort forward. 11 legislators joined us, including Senator Cardin (D-MD), Senator Van Hollen (D-MD), Congressman McEachin (D-VA), Congressman Trone (D-MD), Congresswoman Luria (D-VA), Congressman Wittman (R-VA), Congressman Cartwright (D-PA), Congressman Ruppersberger (D-PA), Congressman Raskin (D-MD), Congressman Connolly (D-VA), and Congressman Cline (R-VA). All talked about their support for funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration and the important role that our Coalition plays in moving this effort forward.

There are many reasons to ask for this increase, but two of them are climate change and the Conowingo Dam. When the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint was created in 2010, it was estimated that the Conowingo Dam would trap pollution through 2025. However, last year, new research determined that the reservoir behind the dam was actually full, and as a result more pollution was entering the Chesapeake Bay than had been originally accounted for. Now it is estimated that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup will need to reduce an additional 6 million pounds of nitrogen every year to mitigate water quality impacts from Conowingo. Also, the Chesapeake Bay region saw record amounts of rainfall this past year, resulting in increased flooding and runoff into local streams. These major rainfall events are only expected to increase with climate change, which will require on-the-ground pollution and flood reducing projects to adapt to new pressures.

In addition to increased funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Coalition is also asking Congress for a 50 percent increase in funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Trails Program and to fully fund the 2018 Farm Bill’s conservation programs to ensure responsible farms in the Chesapeake region remain economically viable. The Coalition is also requesting that Congress not ignore clean water issues when they put together a Federal Infrastructure Spending Package. The Coalition recommends tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $5 billion to be included in such an Infrastructure Package. This Fund provides low interest loans for sewage treatment and stormwater control upgrades and retrofits for local governments and ratepayers in every state.

Congress and the Coalition are now waiting to hear from the Trump administration on the proposed FY20 budget and what it will say about our Chesapeake funding, but one thing is for sure, we will be ready to respond.

You can see our sign on letters here.

Welcome, 116th Congress!

On January 3, members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition headed to Capitol Hill to connect with new and returning members of the 116th Congress. The Chesapeake Bay watershed has 12 new faces in its delegation on the Hill, including:

Congressman Delgado
Congresswoman Luria
Congresswoman Spanberger
Congressman Meuser
Congressman Brindisi
Congressman Riggleman
Congresswoman Wexton
Congressman Joyce
Congressman Trone
Congressman Cline
Congresswoman Houlahan
Congresswoman Miller

The Coalition will be heading to the Hill again on March 6 for Chesapeake Bay Day. Stay tuned for more information.

Lobby Day 2018 Roundup

Congressman Donald McEachin  (VA-04) met with our dedicated lobbyists.

Congressman Donald McEachin  (VA-04) met with our dedicated lobbyists.

On March 21, more than 100 members of the National Wildlife Federation hosted Choose Clean Water Coalition and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed fought through a snowstorm to speak with their members of Congress about the importance of clean water.

This was the 6th annual Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill for Choose Clean Water, a coalition of 239 nonprofit organizations focused on restoring and protecting clean water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Despite the snow, the Coalition met with more than 20 members of Congress or their staff, to discuss federal threats, like funding cuts to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Coalition members also had the pleasure of hearing from 10 different members of Congress at the Chesapeake Bay luncheon, including: Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Congressman John Faso (R-NY), Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Congressman Don McEachin (D-VA), Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA).

The legislators spoke about life around the Chesapeake, where to find the best crab cakes, and of the future of clean water.

Courtesy of Delaware River Coalition

Courtesy of Delaware River Coalition

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed simultaneously scheduled meetings with the entire congressional delegation that represents the Delaware watershed. The two Coalitions had joint meetings with a number of Congressional offices that represent both watersheds. Although the snowstorm disrupted several meetings, the tenor of those that did take place was overwhelmingly positive with congressional members pledging to champion the Delaware on Capitol Hill. The result of the Coalition’s two days on the Hill was a clear message to Members: fund the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and its associated grant program the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP), a non-regulatory approach led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. On March 23, the program received $5 million in funding as part of the fiscal year 2018 Omnibus spending bill approved by Congress. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed worked with Congress on the authorization of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act in December 2016 that created the DRBRP, and through the newly funded program, money will finally begin flowing to local conservation projects throughout the region.

Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) braved the snow to speak to us at lunch. 

Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) braved the snow to speak to us at lunch. 

The result of months of collaboration and hard work paid off with the rejection by Congress of Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which aimed to zero out the Chesapeake Bay Program. The spending bill that passed includes a fully funded Chesapeake Bay budget of $73 million and $5 million for the Delaware River. We owe a huge thank you to all of the members of Congress who voted in support of protecting the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River. The fight for clean water continues as the president’s proposed FY19 budget has only $7.3 million allocated for the Chesapeake Bay and nothing for the Delaware River. Want to help us keep robust funding for the Delaware and Chesapeake in FY19?  Tell your elected officials that you demand clean water for this generation and generations yet to come.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Why is $73 million for the Chesapeake important?

Since 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program has received $73 million in funding for the restoration effort. It is often said that this funding goes to "on the ground restoration efforts around the Chesapeake Bay watershed that are improving local communities." This is true, as the Bay Budget not only supports those who are managing the restoration effort, but projects that are having a positive impact on the Chesapeake Bay's rivers and streams.

But what exactly does spending the Chesapeake Bay Budget look like?

Our chart below lists the seven jurisdictions of the Bay region and how much each jurisdiction was granted through the Bay Budget in 2017.


When breaking down the Chesapeake Bay Budget from FY2017, we are able to see that most funding goes directly to the states for on the ground restoration projects.

As you can see, more than a third of the $72 million in funding given to the Chesapeake Bay Program is then put back into the Bay states. This helps support local nonprofits and businesses, and improves communities. This is one of the reasons why ensuring continued funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort receives so much support from members of Congress - people understand the benefits and can see the results in person.

  • In 2017, Maryland received more than $13 million in funding for projects that include installing buffers and restoring wetlands to reduce non-point source runoff and improving oyster restoration locations.
  • In 2017, Pennsylvania received $11 million in funding, going towards projects like the protection of critical habitat and manure management.
  • Virginia used a portion of its $11.5 million in funding last year to support oyster restoration in the Lafayette River, stream restoration design in Shenandoah County, and the installation of stormwater best management practices.
  • D.C. received more than $3 million, which went towards projects like Fort DuPont watershed restoration and stormwater management systems in the Anacostia River watershed.
  • Last year, Delaware received $2.8 million that was used to fund projects on accelerating wetland restoration and reducing phosphorus with thermochemical conversion.
  • In 2017, West Virginia used its $2.9 million to work on projects like building a conservation hub in the Potomac River headwaters, restoring trout habitat, and monitoring the Appalachian watershed. 
  • New York was granted $3.3 million and put that amount towards funding projects like low-cost methods for forested buffer plantings and reconnecting floodplains through streamside berm removal.

Potential Offshore Drilling Threatens the Bay

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributes $3.39 billion to the local economy per year. However, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, believes that this is not significant enough to exclude these states from offshore drilling. The proposal regarding offshore drilling presents an insurmountable threat to the east coast and especially the Chesapeake Bay. Blue crabs and striped bass are just two of many species that could be heavily impacted by offshore drilling – especially if there were a spill.

In the past, offshore drilling caused major complications for blue crabs. Three years after the disastrous 2010 Louisiana oil spill, the crabs living in the Gulf were still severely altered. Many fishermen reported that they were pulling up empty crab nets day after day. Even worse, the small amount of crabs caught commonly had no claws, points were burned off, and some had severe shell deformities. Dispersant, a chemical used to break down oil droplets, brought its own challenges for crabs after the oil spill. These toxic components were found in crab shells and many were killed as a result. Could you imagine this happening to our blue crabs?

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

But how would offshore drilling in the Atlantic impact our Chesapeake critters?

In the beginning of their lifecycle, blue crabs hatch into larvae where they are transported into the ocean. They grow, feed and molt in this area and the mouth of the bay from June to September. Another iconic bay species, striped bass, live throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but part of their life cycle also includes returning to the ocean after they spawn. If an oil spill occurred in the ocean during these critical points, a year class of these species could be compromised.

Blue crabs and striped bass are not only ecologically important but they have a huge economic value. Every year, Chesapeake Bay watermen provide approximately a third of the nation’s crabs and striped bass bring in approximately $500 million from activities related to fishing. Clearly, offshore drilling’s threats would be devastating and widespread.

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Offshore drilling brings extreme threats to the Chesapeake Bay and everyone connected to it. Not only is it important for us to safeguard the bay for everyone now, but for future generations too. We can’t jeopardize the Chesapeake Bay, its wildlife, jobs, tourism, economic benefits and beauty on something that is so dangerous. This is why the Choose Clean Water Coalition submitted a sign-on letter to express our concerns to Secretary Zinke. Over 50 organizations signed this letter to show support in opposition to offshore drilling and our members plan to discuss this issue further with our members of Congress during our Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill.

It is important to remember the ocean and the bay are connected as a vital system, which provides a habitat for blue crabs and striped bass. Anything that happens in the ocean will eventually impact the bay and vice versa. We must say ‘no’ to offshore drilling to make sure no species are harmed during critical times in their lifecycle.

Taylor Stark is an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Cardin paves a path to better Bay funding

The Coalition would like to give a shout out to our senior Senator from Maryland – “Way to go Senator Cardin!” Most people are well aware of Senator Cardin’s leadership on environmental issues- fighting to increase funding and protections for Chesapeake Bay, and over the past year fighting to protect the funding and the gains we have made.

What many people do not know, however, are all of the significant things that Senator Cardin does for the Bay, and for the community of people who have spent their lives, or part of them, working to restore our national treasure. A few weeks after the election in 2016, Senator Cardin organized a gathering of a large group of environmental professionals in Annapolis to have an open discussion about what the results of that election would mean for the Bay. The one clear message from that meeting was that Senator Cardin would be there for all of us to fight for the Bay and for the bedrock laws and institutions that have been responsible for our environmental progress over the decades.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Times

Photo courtesy of The Washington Times

Senator Cardin has kept his word, and he has been there for our community.  From continuing level funding for Bay restoration to his most recent action to ensure that the cooperative federal-state partnership that has led and coordinated the 35 year old Chesapeake Bay restoration program was not dismantled. Most people have been totally unaware that there was a very serious effort to move the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office complex from Annapolis to be behind the security gates at Ft. Meade. Other members of the Bay delegation, including Senator Chris Van Hollen, also helped with this effort.

The simple move itself seems benign, until you realize that over the decades, numerous Federal agencies have been moving offices and personnel to be near the Chesapeake Bay Program in order to coordinate and collaborate on programs, projects and actions. All of this occurs within the Chesapeake Bay Program that has regular meetings open to the public – from universities to environmental groups to industry and to the general public. Those open public meetings would have been a thing of the past, with the high level of security required to even step onto Ft. Meade.

Just this week EPA announced that the Chesapeake Bay Program would be staying together in Annapolis, and would remain an open and inclusive program for the public and all stakeholders. Most people did not even know there was a problem that was solved, so we would like to thank Senator Cardin for his leadership and effort on this critical matter. Thank you, Senator!

Peter Marx is the federal affairs contractor at the Choose Clean Water Coalition. 

A Day in the Life of a Congressman

It started with a Congressional office visit and a meeting with veteran staffer Brent Robinson. Brent has worked for Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA) since he won a special election in 2007. 

As I do in many Congressional visits, I talked about the importance of funding the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and also the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants that are funded by the Program. I provide a list of these on-the-ground restoration projects for each state and ask if the staff or the Member of Congress would like to see how these funds have been used in their district.  That question, posed several months ago, led to the June 1 tour for Congressman Wittman in Virginia’s 1st Congressional District.

The final agenda settled on visiting two sites – the first, a stormwater remediation project on a severely eroded headwater stream, and the second, a tour by boat of a restored oyster reef as part of a larger restoration of Urbanna Creek.

First, there is some important stuff to know about Congressman Rob Wittman. His political career began in local government in Montross and Westmoreland County on the Northern Neck. But his professional career included a long stint as an environmental health specialist with the Virginia Department of Health and as the Field Director for Virginia’s Division of Shellfish Sanitation. He has forgotten more facts about oysters and the ecology of the Chesapeake than I ever knew.

The tour was organized by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), which administers the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants (both the Small Watershed Grants and the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants).

Our first site visit was adjacent to a busy road outside of downtown Kilmarnock – a quaint little town on the Northern Neck. We gathered just off the main road at 8:30 a.m. and awaited the Congressman’s arrival. The group included a number of local elected officials from the Town and the County and folks from the Army Corps of Engineers, soil and water conservation district, Center for Watershed Protection, Friends of the Rapphannock and Ecosystem Services (the company leading a lot of the project work). We also had Jake Reilly and Mele Williams with NFWF and Kristen Saacke Blunk who coordinated the tours, Bill Street, Ex. Director of the James River Association and co-chair of the Choose Clean Water Coalition – and myself, who hates to pass up a boat ride.

Congressman Wittman pulled up in his pickup truck with the license plates that read, “cobia”. Anyone who knows the Congressman or has been in his DC office, knows that this is a man who is serious about fish and fishing – something I can relate to. I greeted the Congressman and had a brief discussion about the most important topic of the day – his cobia fishing trip over the weekend where he sight casted to cobia, with his smallest fish of the day weighing 62 pounds. These are the best eating fish in the Chesapeake (in my humble opinion) that unfortunately rarely make it far enough up the Bay to my neck of the woods near Annapolis.

We did some quick intros and then walked to the project site, where construction had not yet started. We walked a bit downstream to view the extremely incised and collapsing stream – with 10-20 foot drops to the dry streambed. In response to a question about which regulatory requirements this project would meet for the Town, the project director gave an incisive response – there was no state or federal requirement or credit for the Town to do this project. It was decided that this was the right thing to do and would stop a significant amount of sediment and nutrient pollution from moving downstream into the Corrotoman River. The Town wanted to lead by example. And they have.

We then shuttled over the Rappahannock River to Christchurch School where we met another group of folks involved with extensive restoration efforts on Urbanna Creek. We were greeted by Jeb Byers, the Headmaster of the school, who was gracious enough to provide vans to shuttle us to the marina to meet a boat that they also provided, so we could visit the oyster reef restoration component of the project in the Town of Urbanna on the Middle Peninsula. There were a number of students  who worked on the project, Paula Jasinski, who coordinated the project and also VA Delegate Keith Hodges (R-98th District), who represents the area and lives in Urbanna.

We boarded the boat to look at a couple of restoration sites, and to also learn about water quality improvements already noticeable in Urbanna Creek. Someone brought aboard a few large oysters from the reef we were about to see and handed one to the Congressman, who proceeded to examine the mollusk and quickly determine its age and overall good health. Any other Member of Congress would have been asking for cocktail sauce, but Congressman Wittman wanted to know more about the health of the oyster reefs and their impact on the watershed.

I spoke to the Congressman about the importance of the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants and our concern about ensuring that Congress continues to fund them. Congressman Wittman noted that he was well aware of the grant program – in fact, when he was on the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors they applied for and received a Small Watershed Grant. He agreed that the grants were a great investment and that he would do what he could to see to it that the House included language to support the grant program, as they have done for a number of years. We also spoke briefly about the Farm Bill and how the Chesapeake has been getting shortchanged in conservation money.

I also spoke with Delegate Hodges for the first time, and was very impressed with his knowledge of the Bay and its issues as well as his concern for his district. He recognized the enormous economic challenges for the region but spoke about the green economy – the water and other assets the region had to sustain a great quality of life and to also bolster the economy.

It was another good day in a great and unique part of the Chesapeake region – and we got to spend it with people who are doing great work for their communities and ultimately for the Bay. And I got to have grilled cobia for dinner the night before – quite delicious.

Clean Water Sucks... Said No One Ever!

You would think passing a rule to protect one of our most limited resources would be easy. Think again. For the last decade and a half, the clean water community has worked tirelessly to pass the Clean Water Rule. Finally, on May 27, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized the long awaited rule, which restores protections to thousands of miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands.

Clean water does not suck – Let me tell you why:

Do you like beer?  Me too. Craft Beer Companies testified before the United States Senate that they need this rule because their breweries and communities depend on clean water. Beer is 90% water after all.  If we make our beer with clean water, we better our beer, better our business and better our economy. 

Do you like fishing?  Me too. America’s anglers are standing firmly behind the Clean Water Rule. Trout Unlimited and other organizations know that this rule will protect the fishing, rearing, and breeding grounds of rockfish (striped bass) and trout.  Whether you like to fish, eat fish, or just hang out around fish, we all know fish deserve clean water (especially since they spend most of their lives in it).

Do you like bald eagles and osprey?  ME TOO! The bald eagle has been our National Emblem since 1782!  And osprey just look really awesome, especially when they are right on the water hunting for prey.  This rule protects their watersheds and the fish they eat to survive.  Plus, what’s the best part about a bald eagle?  It never needs a haircut!

Do you like drinking clean water?  This is a no brainer.  The Rule protects streams and wetlands that are drinking water sources for more than 1 in 3 Americans – that’s about 117 million of us!

We need clean water for public health, wildlife, and the economy.  

As Prairie River Networks says, “Water is life.”  Check out their YouTube video here.

Hill Day from an Intern's Perspective

Say someone asks you to imagine the quintessential law student. What kind of individual comes to mind? Be it positive or negative, based on stereotype or personal experience, there is something that virtually every law student shares in common: an inquisitive nature and a desire to learn. As a current law student, I can assure you that this trait is common across the board. As an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition this semester, I guarantee you that there are few better opportunities for get-your-feet-wet-and-hands-dirty-style learning than the Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill.

Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill, affectionately and efficiently known as “Lobby Day” among Coalition members, was nothing short of a masterclass in how positive results stem directly from seamless organization and relentless adherence to a common message.

Lobby Day consisted of over 60 Coalition members from all across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed joining together in Washington, D.C. to lobby directly with elected representatives on behalf of clean water legislation and funding. In over 37 separate meetings with both House and Senate members and staff, the Coalition made its case for an impressive and important set of initiatives. “Asks” were made on behalf of level funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake Small Watershed Grants, Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants, and adequate funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in Fiscal Year 2017. Additionally, Members of Congress were asked to urge the USDA to increase the Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding for the Chesapeake region. We are listed as a priority, but have not received “priority” funding for some time.

If all of that seems daunting to you, I can assure you it is. In today’s political climate, when meaningful and impactful change seems to stall, Lobby Day is an extraordinary example of the process working like a well-oiled machine. There we were up on the Hill, all of us equipped with our commitment to cleaner water, zig-zagging from Senate side to House side (through the biting cold and wind, mind you) making ourselves seen and heard and holding our elected officials accountable.

Particularly remarkable was the warm reception we received. Granted, my meetings with the staff of Senator Mikulski, and Representatives Edwards, Cummings, and Sarbanes weren’t particularly tough sells. They have all demonstrated a consistent commitment to clean water during their respective tenures in office. But it wasn’t uncommon for the representatives and their staff to thank us—their constituents—for our tireless efforts on the front lines for the environment. It was wonderful and it was humbling.

Law school has a tendency to tunnel one’s vision just a bit. As students, we spend a majority of our time with our noses buried firmly in casebooks, awaiting our next assignment or exam. When you spend so much time in the classroom, it’s not hard to lose perspective on the reason we came back to school in the first place. Lobby Day was a wonderful reminder. I can read about governance for hours in my Constitutional Law class, debating doctrine and arguing how the law should or should not have progressed. But seeing governance in action and participating in the legislative process in real time—that is a horse of a different color.

My Day with Congressman Glenn "GT" Thompson

The general perception by most is that the state of politics in America has become very polarized and most issues have devolved into “us vs. them”.  That perception is no different when it comes to clean water issues throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

There are, however, areas where common ground can be found on most issues if you look hard enough and both sides listen to each other. These areas are not as easy to find as they were 5, 10 or 20 years ago, but they are still there if people are willing to look.

A case in point occurred just a couple of weeks ago with Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson, a Republican representing the 5th Congressional District in Pennsylvania. The 5th District is larger than the state of Vermont and a very large chunk of it is in the Susquehanna/Chesapeake watershed.

Congressman Thompson - he goes by “GT” - chairs the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee. He is a conservative representing a very rural and conservative district, and he has often voted on the other side of issues important to the Coalition, such as voting for riders to stop the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or bills to stop the Clean Water Rule. But that does not mean he doesn’t care at all about clean water.

As the Federal Affairs contractor for the Coalition, I have always believed that you need to talk to all sides and keep a dialogue open, trying to find common ground. This means talking to Republicans and Democrats in Congress – that was true when the Democrats controlled the House and/or the Senate, and is especially true now that the Republicans control both houses of Congress. Ignoring the majority party is generally not a good legislative strategy.

My day with GT began with a Hill visit to his office back in April. We had several Coalition members who traveled to DC from PA for a day on the Hill meeting with House and Senate offices of the PA delegation. One of our goals was to get support for funding (“appropriations”) a couple of key programs – the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, and the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants that come from that Program. The two Stewardship Grant programs are the Chesapeake Small Watershed Grants and the Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grants.

When making a pitch for the Congressman to support these programs, his staff interrupted, and told us that GT strongly supported this funding and had already made a request to the House Appropriations Committee for full funding. It was a great opportunity to declare victory without having done anything, and so I did. I asked the staffer if he or the Congressman would be interested in touring some sites in the 5th District that were funded through the grant programs. He said “absolutely”.

The Chesapeake Stewardship Grants, funded by EPA, are currently administered by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).  I contacted NFWF to arrange a tour for the Congressman - after a bit of back and forth, it was decided to do the tour in early October and to focus on projects in Centre County – which is GT’s home.

Since the Congressman chairs an Agriculture Subcommittee, NFWF opted to focus on farm-based restoration and protection projects. NFWF worked with the ClearWater Conservancy, a non-profit grant recipient, and Choose Clean Water Coalition member, that is based in State College, in Centre County.  We had the Congressman for a full five hours, from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. He and his office were not concerned about getting media on the tour, he was just interested in seeing the projects and talking to private landowners about how they liked what was done on their land.

The Congressman arrived with one district office staff person and the seven person tour began. We went to five different restoration sites, all of them on farmland. Some were very agriculture focused, constructing manure containment facilities, fencing and new water supplies to enable livestock exclusion from streams. Others were riparian forest buffers and streambank restoration for local water quality and flood control. All of the landowners we met were very pleased with their finished projects and also with everything that was necessary to get them done.

Congressman Thompson seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day. He’s a soft-spoken man, but not shy, which was evident by his knowing virtually everyone we met by name. And, of course, they all knew GT. It was a great example of retail politics with the Congressman meeting constituents and asking a lot of questions about projects that were completed with federal funds that he helped to obtain. And he was also well aware of the environmental and downstream benefits of all of these projects.

No deals or promises were made by anyone during the day, but we all shared a common goal of trying to get help for landowners who want to do the right thing but are stretched very thin in both time and money. These were great projects that in some places are already making a noticeable difference in local water quality and will be critical to building support for restoration throughout our region.

Folks in Centre County, PA, don’t talk too much about Chesapeake Bay, but they do talk about local streams that have had native brook trout return; they talk about streams that are not flooding as much as they did before their shorelines were stabilized and forested buffers took root on the shoreline; and they talk about how EPA funds actually helped their farms function better and improved their local environment and quality of life.

Coalition Submits Nine Comment Letters

On June 16, 2014, a brand-new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was signed in order to establish goals and outcomes for the restoration of the Bay.  Since the signing of the Watershed Agreement, the Bay Program’s Goal Implementation Teams have been constructing Management Strategies in order to outline the necessary steps to achieve the Agreement’s objectives.  The Management Strategies cover various restoration programs and are supported with two-year work plans, including specific commitments, in order to reach the 2025 goals outlined in the Agreement.

The Choose Clean Water Coalition submitted comments on nine Bay Program Management Strategies.  You can find the sign-on letters here: