April 3, 2014

Senate Committee Approves Whitehouse’s Estuary Bill

Legislation Would Reauthorize Program First Established by Sen. John Chafee

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today approved the Clean Estuaries Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP).  The legislation, crafted with Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), was approved with bipartisan support.  The program was first established in 1987 by the late Republican Senator John Chafee to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment.  Authorization for this important program expired in 2010.

“Estuaries are important for fisheries and wildlife, for tourism and recreation, and they are disappearing,” Whitehouse said.  “Estuaries also provide buffers against dangerous winds and storm surges, protecting homes and critical infrastructure in our coastal communities.  Protecting and strengthening our estuaries is our defense against these threats, and our way of protecting the economic and social value they provide.”

Although the program expired in 2010, it has continued to receive funding through the congressional appropriations process.  Reauthorizing the law, however, provides an opportunity to make needed improvements to the program.  Whitehouse’s legislation would maintain the funding authorization for the NEP at $35 million per year while also limiting the amount of the funding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which administers the program – can use for overhead.  This change will help ensure that more funds are directed straight to the field programs.

Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay NEP was one of the original six estuaries in the program, and over the years has brought millions of dollars in federal funding to the state.  It is estimated that Narragansett Bay generates more than $2.3 billion and supports more than 66,000 jobs per year in Rhode Island.

The National Estuary Program includes more than 42 percent of the continental U.S. shoreline and 15 percent of all Americans currently live within NEP designated watersheds.  In the past decade NEPs around the country have restored and protected over a million acres of estuarine habitat.  It is estimated that the nation’s estuaries provide habitat for more than 75 percent of America’s commercial fish catch.  According to NOAA, commercial fisheries landings in 2012 were valued at $5.1 billion, and 9.4 million recreational fishermen took over 70 million saltwater fishing trips.

“The National Estuary Program was originally created with leadership from Senator John Chafee over twenty-five years ago, and today Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is leading the charge to reauthorize this essential program,” said Thomas A. Borden, Program Director for the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.  “The National Estuary Program encourages a collaborative approach to help protect and restore Narragansett Bay and 27 other estuaries of national significance.  Reauthorization of this program is essential as now, more than any other time in our history, as our coastal communities, economies and resources are facing never-before-seen challenges.”

“Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has been a staunch supporter of our nation’s coasts, including Narragansett Bay,” said Rich Innes, Executive Director of the Association of National Estuary Programs.  “He is demonstrating this once again by providing the leadership to revitalize one of the most cost-effective and successful programs for protection of our bays: The National Estuary Program.  The NEP is recognized as a model for building partnerships to sustain coastal economies, and the jobs that come with it.”

The reauthorization introduced today would also require each estuary’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) to identify risks to the estuary, and to include adaptation measures to mitigate those risks. The legislation is supported by the 28 National Estuary Programs.

“Every day, our nation’s coastal wastewater treatment facilities work around the clock to protect the sensitive estuarine environment and ensure public health,” said Vincent Mesolella, Chairman of the Narragansett Bay Commission.  “We share these goals of protection and enhancement with the National Estuary Program we and applaud Senator Whitehouse for his efforts to reauthorize this program, which supports our coastal waters as both environmental assets and economic engines.”


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921