Fighting to Reauthorize National Estuary Program

Maryland's Coastal Bays at sunset.  Photo: Arlo Hemphill, MCBP

Maryland’s Coastal Bays at sunset. Photo: Arlo Hemphill, MCBP

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE | 26 February 2014

Conservation Program First Established by Senator John Chafee Has Protected Narragansett Bay for More Than Twenty Years

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced legislation to re-authorize the National Estuary Program (NEP), which 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 provide buffers against dangerous winds and storm surges, act as filters protecting water quality from polluted runoff, and serve as nurseries for valuable commercial and recreational fish species,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “In short, estuaries can protect homes, infrastructure, and ecosystems, but we also have to protect them in return.  I urge all of my colleagues to support the reauthorization of this important program.”

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.

Beavertail Light welcomes boats into Rhode Island's Narrangasset Bay.  Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons

Beavertail Light welcomes boats into Rhode Island’s Narragansset Bay. Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons

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.  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, and 80-90 percent of the recreational fish catch.  These estuaries-dependent fisheries have an annual worth of $1.9 billion nationwide.

“The National Estuary Program is the nation’s principal watershed program.  It is non-regulatory, cost effective, field based and successful,” said Rich Innes, Executive Director of the Association of National Estuary Programs.  “Reauthorizing this program will better reflect its maturation and underscore its emphasis on urgent problems including sea level rise and community resiliency in the face of extreme weather events, and its positive impact on tourism and fishing related jobs.”

“When the late Senator John Chafee helped create the National Estuary Program he recognized the need for a locally driven, collaborative approach to help restore Narragansett Bay and similar bays across the country,” said Thomas A. Borden, Esq., Program Director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.  “The efforts of Senator Whitehouse to reauthorize this proven program will directly benefit the living resources, coastal economies, and associated jobs in Rhode Island and elsewhere.”

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

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