The struggling Chesapeake Bay restoration effort stands to get a hefty infusion of funding from the ambitious $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal reached over the weekend in the U.S. Senate.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act calls for providing $238 million over the next five years to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates the state-federal restoration effort.
The Bay restoration effort is among $21 billion in environmental remediation projects that would be funded under the bill. The 2,702-page measure also includes money for physical infrastructure, such as highways, bridges, transit and rail, airports and ports, power and water systems, waterways, broadband access and electric vehicle charging stations.
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The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is expected to pass the Senate with the backing of Republican leaders, also slashed funding for clean energy tax credits intended to help fight climate change.
But the bill increases spending overall on environmental remediation above what Biden had proposed. It would provide funds for cleaning up abandoned mine land and Superfund sites, as well as for improving the resiliency of degraded ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and Gulf of Mexico.
The Chesapeake restoration effort also could get additional help from the bill’s proposal to boost funding nationally for water and wastewater infrastructure. Two EPA programs that provide loans to states for upgrading sewage and stormwater treatment facilities and for enhancing drinking water systems each would get an additional $14.7 billion over the next five years. That would more than double the current annual level of funding for such projects.
This is on top of an already generous helping from the ordinary budget process.
The Chesapeake Bay Program received $87.5 million for fiscal year 2021, and President Biden has proposed increasing that by $3 million for fiscal year 2022, which starts Oct. 1. The House has already approved that level of funding. The infrastructure measure, if passed, would boost that by roughly 50%, providing an additional $47.6 million a year.
I would be more sanguine about this if I didn't expect most of this to be frittered away in administration. There certainly are "infrastructure" type projects that could use the boost. Dealing with the "Conowingo Dam" problem is foremost among them. For almost a 100 years, the Conowingo Dam has been protecting the Bay by catching sediments coming down the Susquehanna River from Pennsylvania and New York. The pool behind the dam is now full, and no longer catching these sediments. However, costs for doing that dredging could be $48-267 million dollars annually, indefinitely. That pretty much eats up all the wiggle room from frittering.