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Kaine, Cardin, Wittman, & Chesapeake Bay Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Help Farmers Reduce Pollution, Cut Costs and Increase Resilience

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Mark Warner (D-A) joined U.S. Representatives Rob Wittman (R-VA-1), John Sarbanes (D-MD-3), Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7), Co-Chairs of the House Chesapeake Bay Task Force, to introduce a legislative package aimed at tackling the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Conservation Acceleration Act (S. 2710), supports agricultural producers across the region, particularly as they are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Approximately one-third of the Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed is farmland.

Extreme storms, like what our region suffered through last weekend, can lead to floods that wash away soil and fertilizers, damaging crops and carrying pollution into waterways. Agricultural conservation practices are one of the most cost-effective solutions to address these urgent problems and they provide multiple benefits. Practices that focus on building healthy soils and maintaining permanent vegetation such as forest buffers can reduce pollution, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and improve the land’s ability to withstand floods, drought, and other extreme conditions linked to climate change. In addition, many practices help producers cut costs and make their farms more resilient to economic shocks by increasing yields.

“The Chesapeake Bay has a rich ecosystem and is critical for our economy, supporting jobs in the tourism and seafood industries,” said Senator Kaine. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that implements smart agricultural conservation measures supported by farmers that will reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and ensure the watershed is healthy for generations to come.”

“The health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and regional agriculture are intertwined at the heart of our region’s cultural identity and economic wellbeing. We have reason to be optimistic about the health of the Bay, but we must continue to do all we can to support our farmers so they can withstand and overcome the threats to their viability,” said Senator Cardin.

"The agriculture industry is vital to the Commonwealth’s economy, and our farmers are committed to the stewardship and protection of the Chesapeake Bay," said Rep. Wittman. "This legislation will ensure additional resources go directly to on-the-ground conservation projects that support farmers and restore the Chesapeake Bay. I’m proud to be leading this bipartisan effort to encourage the responsible stewardship of our lands, waters, and wildlife, and to fight for a cleaner, safer, and healthier Bay."

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and a regional economic engine that we all must fight to protect. This bill will help us do just that by boosting momentum for key Bay restoration priorities – from supporting our region’s farmers and their conservation efforts to restoring natural habitat to combatting invasive species that threaten native wildlife. These are key steps to preserving the Bay for generations to come,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Preserving the heath of the Chesapeake Bay is crucial to Virginia’s economy and our agriculture industry,” said Senator Warner. “As we work together to restore the Bay that means so much to the region, I’m proud to introduce legislation that better supports farmers’ efforts to usher in safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective farming practices.”

"With one-third of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed home to farmland, the health of our Bay and success of our agriculture industry are interconnected," said Rep. Sarbanes. "I am proud to join this bipartisan, bicameral efforttoequipfarmers with the resources needed to improve conversation practices and help tackle the watershed's most pressing source of pollution. The Chesapeake Bay Conservation Acceleration Act is one of my top priorities in this year's Farm Bill, and I will work tirelessly alongside my colleagues to and get it across the finish line."

“As a co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force, I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Chesapeake Bay Conservation Acceleration Act,” Rep. Bobby Scott said. “This bill will support farmers in implementing evidence-based practices to protect soil and food security, while also helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.”

“The Chesapeake Bay is one of Virginia’s treasures — from its natural beauty to the economic opportunities and jobs it creates in our Commonwealth. As the only Virginian on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill to improve CREP, cut red tape for farmers wanting to deploy riparian buffers, and focus on strengthening the workforce tasked with protecting the Bay and its watershed,” said Rep. Spanberger. “I want to thank my colleagues in both parties for understanding the importance of restoring the Chesapeake Bay, helping our farmers be a part of the solution, and working together to protect this watershed for generations to come.”

The legislation is supported by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Chesapeake Conservancy, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Collectively, the six Bay states and the District of Columbia are behind in meeting the pollution reductions required by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (Bay TMDL). More than 80 percent of the remaining pollution reductions must come from agriculture. Providing more financial and technical support to farmers to implement conservation practices is essential for the health of the Bay watershed and the regional economy, as is growing a market for invasive catfish, which have a harmful impact on menhaden, blue crabs, and other native species, and are therefore another high priority to address in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.

Chesapeake Bay Conservation Acceleration Act (S. 2710) Summary

Full bill text can be found here.

Section 1 – Chesapeake Bay States’ Partnerships Initiative

This section authorizes the Chesapeake Bay States’ Partnership Initiative (CPSI) for five fiscal years. In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an additional $22.5 million in conservation assistance in fiscal year 2022 to help farmers boost water quality improvements and conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This administrative action was a significant step toward closing the estimated $737 million investment gap needed to meet agriculture sector nutrient reduction goals. USDA also announced a new task force—jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — to better quantify the voluntary conservation efforts of farmers in the Bay watershed. The section authorizes appropriations of $75,000,000 for fiscal years 2024 through 2027.

Section 2 – Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Participation

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was once the dominant source of financial and technical assistance for riparian forest buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, enrollment has slowed in recent years, despite the cost effectiveness of buffers to address water quality concerns. This section removes administrative barriers to implementation and allows states to more easily take advantage of legislative improvements to the program.

Section 3 – Chesapeake Bay Watershed Turnkey Pilot Program

This section establishes a pilot program in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that would create a “turnkey” program for the installation, management, and maintenance of riparian forest buffers  (RFB) to be implemented by a third party—where the landowner assigns the cost‑share and practice incentive payments to the third party but continues to receive the annual rental payment. A pilot program would offer a simple process for landowners who wish to install RFB buffers to apply.

Section 4 – Chesapeake Bay Watershed Workforce Development

This section expands the Higher Education Challenge Grant Program to include two-year programs and paid internships. Additional capacity is needed for conservation technical assistance—the trained professionals that work with producers to inform, design, engineer and install agricultural best management practices in a way that maximizes the benefits for both the producer and the environment. Promoting agricultural conservation courses at two-year institutions will help bring students to the workforce more quickly and with a lower student loan debt burden, making these jobs more attractive.

Section 5 – Invasive Blue Catfish Inspection Relief

This section transfers primary regulatory oversight of domestic wild-caught catfish invasive to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem from the Department of Agriculture to the Food and Drug Administration. In 2017, all catfish were placed under the regulatory jurisdiction of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, including wild-caught, domestic blue catfish. The establishment of this inspection program has placed constraints on catfish processing in the Bay region.