More projects to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are expected to get underway after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday the first release of funding from the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure effort to restore the estuary’s health and address climate change.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Biden signed last November, includes $238 million over the next five years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program to support restoration projects.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides a once in a generation opportunity — actually, it’s been more than a generation since this country saw this kind of investment — investment in on the ground efforts to protect natural treasures like the Chesapeake Bay and to improve using green and nature based infrastructure,” Janet McCabe, deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in front of the Patapsco River at MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore on Monday.
McCabe announced that her agency will distribute $40 million directly to the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation from which community based organizations can apply for grants for Bay restoration projects.
The figure represents 85% of the first-year funding for Bay cleanup efforts. The agency received the funding two months ago and is already allocating it to states, which is an “incredibly quick turnaround” in federal government, McCabe quipped.
The state of Maryland will receive $3.21 million, Pennsylvania will receive $5.59 million, Virginia will receive $3.14 million, New York will receive $1.28 million, Delaware will receive $750,000, West Virginia will receive $500,000 and the District of Columbia will receive $500,000. The state funds will mostly go to farmers to improve local rivers and streams that run to the bay, according to a press release.
“It’s a very, very big deal what we’re doing here today,” said U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D). “You’re here today delivering a big check; please come back often with big checks,” he told McCabe. “Seventy-two percent of Marylanders live in the Bay watershed — this is their life.”
The Bay Program’s annual appropriation last year was $87.5 million, but funds from the infrastructure bill will raise the program’s annual funding to $138.1 million this fiscal year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“It is a cause for celebration,” Hilary Falk, the president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in an interview. “These dollars are also important because they can leverage other money and we can then get more programs on the ground.”
This federal investment for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts marks a shift from the Trump administration, which repeatedly tried to slash funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership that has existed since 1983 and aims to restore the Bay’s health. However, Congress blocked his proposals to gut the program.
Federal agencies within the Chesapeake Bay Program recently pledged to minimize the impacts of climate change on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed to leading a pilot study called Targeted Outreach for Green Infrastructure to prioritize public infrastructure needs in underserved communities at increased risk related to climate change, according to the pledge. And the National Park Service will conduct climate vulnerability assessments of all the coastal park sites of the Chesapeake Bay region and provide recommendations for climate resiliency.
“It is 400 years that we’ve been wrestling with the legacy of colonialism and over farming and suburban sprawl and industrialization, but in the last 40 years, we’ve made more progress than in the last 400 years — and that is a lot to be proud of,” said Adam Ortiz, the Mid-Atlantic Region administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), who grew up in Turner Station, said many Marylanders have a personal relationship with the Bay. But work still needs to be done to abate “human indifference” from those who don’t have that same relationship and believe the Bay will fix itself.