As much as $737 million in proposed funding expected to be included as part of the budget reconciliation package being negotiated in Congress would be used toward reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including for agricultural conservation.
The funds would also be used toward reducing agricultural pollution in the local streams, creeks, and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.
Included in the $737 million are proposals to plant forested buffers and rotate where livestock graze.
The programs are intended to provide financial and technical support to farmers who may not have the available resources to implement conservation practices.
Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, joined Maryland’s two senators, Chris Van Hollen, D, and Ben Cardin, D, in pushing for the funding.
In a letter sent on Oct. 7 to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the six senators argued that the need to reduce nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake Bay was urgent.
The potential funds for the conservation programs would be allocated from up to four programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a spokesperson in Cardin’s office.
Cardin’s spokesperson cautioned that despite the push for all $737 million in funding, it is unclear how much money the reconciliation package would direct to the Chesapeake Bay.
The push for funding comes amid a report that 84% of the 182 Maryland poultry operations that the state inspected between 2017 and 2020 had one or more violations of their state water pollution control permits, according to the report published in The Environmental Integrity Project.
The report also found that about two-thirds of the poultry operations that failed inspections had a waste management problem.
The goal of the new conservation programs is to meet the restoration targets that watershed states committed to in a 2010 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, which was a plan to reduce pollution enough to restore the health of the waterways.
Around 80% of the pollution reduction needs to come from agriculture to meet the 2025 deadline established in the blueprint, according to plans that the states developed.
“(Chesapeake Bay Foundation) is excited to see momentum for the (Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative) building among agricultural leaders who represent more than 100,000 farm families across the watershed,” foundation Federal Executive Director Denise Stranko said in a statement.
Pollution and restoration efforts for the Chesapeake Bay have been going on for decades.
Congressional Democrats continued early this week to negotiate the cost and programs within the reconciliation package.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, indicated on Tuesday morning that a vote on the reconciliation bill could happen as early as Thursday.
The reconciliation bill is a broad social spending plan that includes universal pre-K, an expansion of the child tax credit, and an expansion of Medicare, among other measures.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, have been unwilling to support the $3.5 trillion amount that President Joe Biden, D, initially proposed.
The final price tag appeared likely to land at around $1.75 trillion as negotiations progressed.
Manchin recently expressed opposition to Biden’s $150 billion climate plan within the bill to transition toward clean energy, although approximately $500 billion worth of other environmental provisions remains in the proposal.
Biden announced a revised framework for the reconciliation package on Oct. 28, but it remains unclear whether it has the support of all 50 senators.
Progressive House Democrats have expressed more of an openness in recent days to reduce the overall cost of the reconciliation plan.
Members of the House Progressive Caucus had been unwilling to vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in August until an agreement on the reconciliation bill was reached.
On Tuesday, progressive lawmakers appeared open to advancing the infrastructure bill without details of the reconciliation package in place.
In an interview on CNN Tuesday morning, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, conveyed optimism that both bills could pass the House this week.
Meanwhile, in a press conference on Monday, Manchin reiterated his position of pushing for a vote on the infrastructure bill as soon as possible while refraining from committing to support the current reconciliation framework.
That bipartisan infrastructure bill also included $238 million in funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts but is separate from the push for $737 million in the reconciliation package.
Moderate House Democrats had urged Pelosi to pass the infrastructure bill regardless of the progress on the larger reconciliation package.
Rep. Andy Harris, who is the lone Republican member of Maryland’s congressional delegation, declined a request for comment on the proposed $737 million in funding.
Congressional Republicans are united in opposition to the reconciliation package and have derided the proposal as far too expensive.
However, 19 Senate Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill that passed in August and several House Republicans have expressed support for it as well.
This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.