(WASHINGTON, DC)–Last week, America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act was signed into law. Passing both chambers of Congress unanimously, this broad conservation bill contains programs that will significantly help protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams:
Reauthorization of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay Program: The EPA Chesapeake Bay Program was first created in 1983. Administered by EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Program is the glue that holds together the cleanup partnership of federal, state, and local governments, conservation groups, and educational institutions. But the Bay Program’s funding authority expired in 2005. ACE updates this authorization for the next five years and increases the authorized level incrementally over the five years to $92 million in 2025. Its current funding is $85 million.
Chesapeake WILD (Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense): The law creates this new program and authorizes $15 million annually for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support restoring fish and wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Bay watershed covers 64,000 square miles, spanning parts of six states and the District of Columbia.
Reauthorization of the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program: This provision will reauthorize this small, but critically important program for five more years. The Park Service works with state and local partners to promote and increase access for the public to iconic natural, historic, and cultural landscapes around the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Reauthorization of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF): NFWF awards grants that provide critical support for community groups. Examples of projects supported by NFWF grants include:
- Planting 650 shade trees in Richmond neighborhoods suffering from extreme heat linked to racially motivated housing discrimination and providing green jobs training for youth in the community.
- Restoring nearly 30 miles of native brook trout habitat in headwater streams in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, ultimately preventing nearly 10 million pounds of soil and sediment from entering local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
- A “circuit rider” program to help six jurisdictions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to identify and seek funding for local Bay restoration and water quality improvement projects.
Enactment of America’s Conservation Enhancement Act was only made possible by the tireless efforts of many members of Congress in the Chesapeake Bay delegation, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Representatives Elaine Luria, John Sarbanes, Bobby Scott, and Rob Wittman, and Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Ben Cardin, Tom Carper, and Chris Van Hollen. The Choose Clean Water Coalition, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Chesapeake Bay Commission thank them for their steadfast dedication and support for clean water.
Choose Clean Water Coalition Director Kristin Reilly said:
“The America’s Conservation Enhancement Act is the most important piece of federal legislation to help the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams in more than 30 years. That this bill passed through Congress unanimously amidst the partisan discord that plagues Washington speaks to the incredible level of bipartisan support for clean water.
“This groundbreaking legislation could not have arrived at a better time as the country perseveres through the COVID-19 pandemic. By providing critical funding for on-the-ground conservation projects, this legislation serves as an economic stimulus to communities throughout the country, providing thousands of good-paying jobs. The programs in this bill are critical to conservation efforts in every region and every state, and will enhance the outdoor recreational experiences of tens of millions of Americans. As the Choose Clean Water Coalition and its more than 250 member organizations work to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, the passage of the ACE Act is a critical step in the right direction.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said:
“This is a truly exciting day for the Chesapeake Bay and the 18 million people who live here. The Bay is an important economic engine as well as a national treasure. The bipartisan America’s Conservation Enhancement Act makes possible historic, urgently needed funding increases for the federal Chesapeake Bay Program and the restoration effort it leads.
“In past decades, as pollution reduction deadlines neared, state and regional officials violated their promises and pushed to extend the deadline. We hope and trust that will not be the case this time. The ACE Act demonstrates the Congressional commitment to saving the Bay. It is time for all parties to recommit to the 2025 deadline.”
Chesapeake Bay Commission Executive Director Ann Swanson said:
“The passage of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act demonstrates the broad bipartisan support for clean water and environmental restoration. The legislation reaffirms the federal commitment to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams, and the Bay’s vast watershed. Federal programs are integral to the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership, a collaborative effort among the Federal government, the six watershed states, the District of Columbia, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
“We are grateful to the leaders in Congress from the Bay region who expertly advanced this legislation and look forward to working with them going forward to secure the additional funding envisioned in this legislation. Clean water is within reach, and with the continued work of all our committed champions, we are convinced it will be achieved.”