September 17, 2020

Van Hollen, Cardin Laud Senate Passage of Key Measures for Chesapeake Bay, Including Historic $92 Million Authorization, New Grant Program

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.), members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, today praised the passage of a bipartisan package of wildlife conservation legislation, the America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act, that includes several measures to benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Maryland’s fish and wildlife habitats. Foremost among the legislation was a provision authored by Senator Cardin and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), and cosponsored by Senator Van Hollen, to increase the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program authorization from $40 million to $92 million. As a Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Van Hollen, alongside Senator Cardin, has pushed for the highest level of funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program at $85 million in the FY2020 Appropriations Bill. 

As a part of this legislative package, the Senate also passed two other Chesapeake Bay proposals, the Chesapeake WILD Act, introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and another authored by Senator Cardin. The senators are each cosponsors of the other’s legislation. 

  • The bipartisan Chesapeake WILD Act will provide more resources to Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts by creating a new grant program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support habitat restoration in the Bay region. The Committee authorized the program at $15 million. 
  • Reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails network and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Grants Assistance Program, run by the National Park Service, which provides $6 million per year throughout the watershed in technical and financial assistance to state, community, and nongovernmental partners to increase public access to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. 

“The Chesapeake Bay is a cornerstone of Maryland’s environment, economy, and culture. The positive impact of investing in its preservation has benefits that extend far and wide for our state – creating good paying jobs, supporting our fishing and tourism industries, and ensuring generations to come can enjoy all the Bay has to offer. I’m proud that we were able to authorize significant new funding for the Bay in this package – including through legislation that Senator Cardin and I introduced – and we will continue to fight for these resources at every turn,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“The Chesapeake Bay and our fish and wildlife are at the heart of what makes Maryland Maryland. A healthy Bay means a healthy economy for our state and our region,” said Senator Cardin. “The more we can do to protect our precious natural resources and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the better it is for our communities and public health. These programs, individually and together, will have a significant impact on the Chesapeake Bay and all who depend on it for years to come.” 

The bill also reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, known as NFWF, until 2025 through language authored by Senator Cardin and Senator Cassidy (R-La.). As the nation's largest conservation grant-maker, NFWF has been instrumental in completing conservation projects in Maryland and around the Chesapeake Bay. On September 4, 2020, Senators Van Hollen and Cardin announced $3,941,087 in federal funds from NFWF to support projects throughout Maryland to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and enhance environmental infrastructure. 

The bill also codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnership, a collaboration between public agencies, private citizens, and nonprofits for promoting fish conservation through language authored by Senator Cardin and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Maryland is home to three fish habitat partnerships: Atlantic Coast FHP, which stretches from Maine to the Florida Keys including Maryland’s coastal bays; Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, which has spearheaded an assessment of brook trout populations and threats to their habitat in the Eastern United States including Central Maryland; and Ohio River Basin FHP, which was formed to protect, restore, and enhance priority habitat for fish and mussels in the watersheds of the Ohio River Basin that includes Garrett County. 

When originally passed in January, the ACE Act incorporated provision from the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act (NAWCA), which provides grants to increase and protect wetlands that provide habitat for wildlife, reduce the severity of flooding and coastal erosion, and improve water quality. The Senate again passed an updated version of the legislation this week that resolves differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. The legislation next goes back to the House of Representatives for final passage.