Whitehouse Introduces Bill to Re-Authorize National Estuary Program
Conservation Program was First Established by Senator John Chafee and has Protected Narragansett Bay for more than Twenty Years
Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced bipartisan legislation to re-authorize the National Estuary Program (NEP), which was first established in 1987 by Senator John Chafee, to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution, overdevelopment, and other threats. Authorization for this important program expired last year, compromising the programs in place for estuaries of national significance, including the Narragansett Bay. Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) are co-sponsors of the bill.
“In Rhode Island, our economic health depends largely on the health of our estuaries – from our commercial and recreational fishing industries to tourism and sightseeing,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Environment Public Works (EPW) Committee. “Our estuaries help drive Rhode Island’s economy and shape our identity, and I’m determined to carry on the legacy of Senator Chafee by preserving them.”
“All of us who care for Narragansett Bay and its watershed appreciate Senator Whitehouse's leadership in reauthorizing this collaborative, non-regulatory program that has long provided science, information, ecosystem planning and local capacity-building services to support effective management of Bay and watershed resources,” said Richard Ribb, Director of the National Estuary Program. “This bill strengthens our local program, increases accountability, and helps watershed stakeholders direct federal resources to local needs and priorities.”
The legislation would maintain the funding authorization for this important program at $35 million per year while ensuring that increased amounts be directed straight to the field programs.
The National Estuary Program is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 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.
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, and 80-90 percent of the recreational fish catch. These estuaries-dependent fisheries have an annual worth of $1.9 billion nationwide.
The reauthorization introduced today would also require each estuary’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) to include risks to the estuary caused by climate change, and to identify adaptation measures to mitigate those risks. The legislation is supported by the 28 National Estuary Programs.
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