Chesapeake cleanup

Our view: Bush spending cut must be rejected

August 11, 2008

Earlier this year, when Congress agonized over a $307 billion agricultural appropriations bill that continued to reward rich farmers while doing relatively little for small farmers or to protect the environment, one provision helped convince members from Maryland that they could support the bill. It was a proposal, offered by Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, that promised to spend $400 million over the next 10 years to reduce farm-related pollution into the endangered Chesapeake Bay.

Now, President Bush has proposed eliminating funding for that program. That's a proposal that must not stand.

That money is urgently needed to continue cleanup of the bay. Sediment as well as nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms continue to cloud and degrade the Chesapeake, which is North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary, a precious natural resource. Recently, investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general reported continuing problems with the bay's cleanup, including limited implementation of agricultural conservation practices.

The 87,000 farms in the Chesapeake watershed account for about 25 percent of the land but contribute 39 percent of the nitrogen and 42 percent of the phosphorus entering the bay. Agriculture's percentage of these pollutants has increased since 1985, and it is the Chesapeake's single largest pollution source. Farms also contribute about 63 percent of the bay's sediment loading and some toxic chemicals through pesticide use.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he would lead a challenge of the Bush proposal. Lawmakers from states surrounding the bay should join him. When Congress acts on the president's budget proposal, the money for the bay's agricultural cleanup must be included.

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