July 13, 2022

WATCH: Van Hollen Pushes for Chesapeake Bay Priorities in Appropriations Hearing with Interior Secretary Haaland

Senator Van Hollen is calling for strong funding for Bay restoration efforts in fiscal year 2023

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Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) urged U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to continue prioritizing funding and programs to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities it provides. During a hearing in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, on which the Senator serves, Senator Van Hollen discussed with Secretary Haaland the importance of providing robust funding to support areas important to Maryland, including National Park Service (NPS) staffing, the Chesapeake Gateways and Trails Program, and the Chesapeake WILD Program which the Senator established to support habitat restoration in the Bay region.

Excerpts of the Senator’s exchange are below. Video of Senator Van Hollen’s questions for Secretary Haaland can be viewed here.

On efforts to designate a new Chesapeake National Recreation Area:

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): I want to thank you for your leadership, and support, and assistance from the National Park Service as we work to establish the Chesapeake National Recreation Area, which would highlight the cultural, historic, and ecological significance of what is a national and natural treasure, the Chesapeake Bay. I am excited about the ongoing discussions; Congressman Sarbanes and I, and other members of the delegation from Maryland and other – from Virginia as well – have been reaching out to stakeholders, and we appreciate the technical support that we’ve received from your team, including Wendy O’Sullivan, of course, the [Superintendent] of the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Park Service. I would just ask you for your continuing commitment to work with us as we plan on introducing this legislation. 

SECRETARY DEB HAALAND, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR: Absolutely, we support – we support you on this, and thank you for recognizing that our help has been, our technical assistance has been helpful to you.

On NPS Staffing levels: 

VAN HOLLEN: I know that you’ve got staffing vacancies, in fact as I understand it, the National Park Service has lost roughly 29 percent of its staff from 2010 to 2020. We’re talking about thousands of employees. What are your plans to help fill that gap? Let me just give one other local example: the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park has seen an 85 percent increase in visitation over the last 15 years, with a roughly 50 percent decrease in staff. So that’s one example. What are your plans to try to re-staff the National Park Service?

HAALAND: Thank you, Senator, and we absolutely realize that this is an issue. Our budget includes $148.3 million across the National Park Service to support more than 1,100 additional full-time equivalents. That would strengthen critical functions. This includes funding to build park capacity, address critical operating responsibility at park units in Maryland. […] We’re really trying to find solutions to make sure we can have the folks where we need them. 

On the Chesapeake Gateways and Trails Program:

VAN HOLLEN: Let me ask you about the Chesapeake Gateways and Trails Program. This helps provide technical and financial assistance to the Bay watershed, and we work to engage communities across the Chesapeake Bay regarding conservation and important recreational opportunities including better access to the Chesapeake Bay. […] Right now, this program – the gateways program – we’ve been successful at getting the annual appropriations, but it is not yet authorized. Would you, as the Secretary, support authorizing that program on an ongoing basis?

HAALAND: For the Gateways-Trails Program, our budget includes $3 million, and of course, we support that. We love all our outdoor spaces, and we’ll do whatever we can to help.

VAN HOLLEN: Well we appreciate that. We’ll be working with the Chairman and others – I mean this is the Appropriations Committee, but we’re working with the authorizers to get that fully authorized, but we appreciate the fact that that’s in your budget.

On the Chesapeake WILD Program:

VAN HOLLEN: There is one important item regarding the Bay that’s not included in your budget. It’s called the Chesapeake WILD Program – it was a piece of legislation that I worked on with Senator Capito on a bipartisan basis. It was included in the larger piece of legislation a number of years ago, and it authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ongoing participation. That was not included in your budget appropriation request. Can you assure that you’ll work with this Committee to make sure the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to remain engaged? We’ll be pressing for the continued appropriation – in fact an increased appropriation for that.

HAALAND: Absolutely, it’s a wonderful program. There was $4 million available for these grants; that was funded through the 2022 appropriation. We know that it funds, supports locally driven conservation which is very important. So thank you, yes. I think the goals of this program are consistent with the Administration’s move to ensure that we’re conserving these spaces for Americans.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

The full hearing recording can be accessed here.

Last month, Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin led the Senators representing the Chesapeake Bay watershed in sending a letter to leaders of the Appropriations subcommittees that oversee priority Bay programs, urging them to support across-the-board funding sufficient to answer the many threats facing the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. A copy of the letter is available here.