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Summary of Hearings on Estuaries and Coastal Waters (7-23-99)


Hearing on Estuaries and Coastal Water Quality Litigation
Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
July 13, 1999

Summary
    Army represented argued for the Corps significant involvent in any estaury restoration as that in H.R. 1775

Members Present
Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY)
Herbert H. Bateman (R-VA)
Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD)
Steve Horn (R-CA)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
sherwood
Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ)
Sue W. Kelly (R-NY)
Kil
Robert A. Borski (D-PA)
Gene Taylor (D-MS)
William J. Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ)
Baird
James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Ellen Tauscher (D-CA)
Leonard L. Boswell (D-IA)
 

Opening Statements
    Chariman Boehlert began the proceedings with "our nation's estuaries are out nations nurseries."  Despite their critical importance, he noted that estuaries are "at risk and under assault"  from population and devlepment pressures that are engulf out coastlines.  Boehlert summarized the 5 bills on the docket for discussion at this hearing:
    1) H.R. 1775, the Estuary Habitat Partnership Act of 1999, sponsored by Rep. Gilchrest, would restore 1 million acres of habitat by 2010;
    2) H.R. 1237, sponsored by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), permits grants and reauthorizes appropriations for the national estuary program;
    3) H.R. 1096, sponsored by Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), the Water Pollution Control and Estuary Restoration Act;
    4) H.R. 855, sponsored by Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY), The Long Island Sound Preservation and Protection Act, to address the dumpin of dredged material into the sound and holds federal agencies to the same environmental standards as the private sector;
    5) H.R. 673, sponsored by Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-FL), The Florida Keys Water Quality Improvements Act of 1999.

Rep. Borski stated that "coastal environments need to be restored and protected" because the industries dependent on them--fisheries, tourism, water supply, and transportation--are worth billions of dollars to this country.  He expressed conceren that the legislation to address this issue is too narrow and suggested instead that the Clean Water Act be reauthorized with an emphasis on reducing non-point source pollution.

Rep. Gilchrest used the image of the earth seen from space and urged his collegues to realize that "we are marrononed on this tiney little planet called earth."  He argued that these issues must be dealt with and our fragile environments protected as they "protect us from that infinite, hostile environemtn called space."

Rep. Taylor focused his comments on the Core of Engineers and his belief that they are not doing their jobs.  He argued that the Core is short sighted and simply performing emergency dredging; Taylor suggested that the Congress must direct the Core to select sites and begin restoring coastal marshes. Rep. Baird focused his comments on the determental effects of invasive species. Rep. Horn concetrated on the role of harbours and the material flowing into them as responsible parties for coastal degredation.

Panel 1 Witnesses
Honorable Jim Saxton (R-NJ) Honorable Christopher Shays (R-CT)
Honorable Nita M. Lowey  Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Honorable Rick Lazio Honorable Michael P. Forbes
Honorable Gary Ackerman Honorable Peter Deutsch
Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Honorable Johnson

Testimony of Rep. Saxton
    Saxton stated that while impressive progress had been made in reducing point source pollution, non-point source pollution was still a significant problem.  To address this problem, the Clean Water Act must be reauthorized with provisions to reduce non-point source pollution.  He expressed confidence in H.R. 1237 as a positive step towards protecting and restoring wetlands.  Saxton stated that his bill reauthroizes the National Estuary Program, addresses non-point source pollution, and includes federal funds for planning and implementaiton of protection strategies.

Testimony of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen
    Ros-Lehntinen used her testimony to express support for H.R. 673 and concern over water quality in the Florida Keys.  She stated that the Florida Keys represent on the the most extenisve living coral reefs adn that tourism drivinen by this natural wonder is both a blessing and a bane.  While tourism is the backbone of the economy, this large influx of people and associated development puts stress on the natural system by increasing waste water and storm water pollution.  The Florida Keys must overcome a low per capita income, bedrock of porous limestone, and a senstive ecosystem that requires the water meet the highest standards.  Ros-Lehtinen also  stressed the link between the everglades and Florida Keys; while the restoration legislation of the everglades is encourage, the everglades cannot be saved without ensuring a healthy florida keys system.

Testimony of Rep. Lazio
    Rep. Lazio focused on non-point source pollution, stating that it is reponsible for 93% of the environmental degradation of New York's coastal and inland water quality.  He stated that New York state has designate over 800 million dollars for restoation, but the magnitude of degradation precludes the state from being able to fund the entire restoration project.  However, he argued, that federal legislation is ill equiped to fund these projects and address non-point pollution.  Consequently, Lazio supports H.R. 1775 and H.R. 1237.

Testimony of Rep. Shays
    Shays expressed suppport for H.R. 1775 and H.R. 1237.  He drew attention to the issue of dredging and more importantl where the dedged material is dumped. He stated that rivers deliver sediment to every harbour in the country and that this material when dredged cannot be dumped at temporary sites.  He urged legislation to require permanant sites for dumping of dredged material.

Testimony of Rep. Johnson
    Johnson expressed concern about non-point pollution, but argued that there is no scientific evdience that dedred materials and sites are a problem.  He does not support any legislation that would "bring a halt to an absolutely necessary maintanence project."

Testimony of Rep. Deutsch
    Deutsch argued that the unique charachteristicds of Monroe County in the Florida Keys makes a case for federal funding of the necessary water treatment.  Monroe county is set on a living reef and has 93% of the land owned by the federal government.  The current water treatment system is not adequate to prevetn irreperable damage to the reef system.  The porous limestone of the reef allows seweage to enter the reef in 12 hours from the current septic systems.  Because of the small tax base and magnitude of the problem, Deutsch urged the passage of H.R. 673 that would provide federal fudning for water quality improvements in the Florida Keys.

Testimony of Rep. Shaw
    Shaw also stressed how unique and precious the Florida Keys were; he argued that the water quality measures to preseve this "national treasure" are "too expensive to do locally."

Question and Answer Session for Panel 1
    Kelly asked about what Florida had done about luxury boats flushing directly into waters.  Shaw stated that it is totally in federal jurisdiction and that the Coast Guard has not been helpful in solving the problem.  Deutcsh stressed that this was an enforcement issue and Shaw argued for local boatmen assisting in enforcement.  Boehlert promised to follow up with the Coast Guard and Gilchrest promised to call the Commandant of the Coast Guard that afternoon.

Panel 2 Witnesses
 
Mr. Michael Davis
Deputy Asistan Scretary of the Army for Policy and Legislation
Washington, D.C.
Ms. Dana D. Minerva
Deputy Assistant Adminstrator for Water
Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, D.C.
Ms. Sally J. Yozell
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Oceans and Atmosphere
NOAA
Washington, D.C.

Testimony of Michael Davis
    Mr. Davis stated that the Army "applauds" H.R. 1775 and its goal of restoring 1 million acres of habitat by 2010.  He supports the bill's enhancement of the Army Corps of Engineers ability to restore habitat.  He argued that the Corps has a "powerful tool kit of standing authorites and programs that can be brought to bear to help solve environmental problems."  He cited the 28,000 acres of habitat already restored by the Corps in the Upper Mississippi River and the proposa submitted to restore the everglades as evidence of the Core's competency in habitat restoration.  He discussed the shift in the Core's program of one focusing on flood control and navigation to an agenda that gives equal weight to both evironmental restoration and these traditional functions.  He assured the committee that "the Army is prepared to take a leadership role in reaching the goals of H.R. 1775."  He supported limiting federal assitance to 65% and requiring non-federal sponsors to contribute the rest, but asked Congress to clarify the role of non-federal sponsors.  He also suggested including the Great Lakes region in the coverage of the bill and adding a cost share component that encourages the trial of new technologies.
    Mr. Davis, in order to provide background for his comments about H.R. 855, detailed the current policies nad permiting procdures of the Core's dredging program. In light of the polices currently in effect, he stated H.R. 855 "will unnecessarily add costs and potenitla delays to projects."  He agreed with the objectives of H.R. 855 that federal agencies should be held to the same environemental statndards, but some language of H.R. 855 is suffiencly vague to hinder efficient implementaiton.

Testimony of Ms. Minerva
    Ms. Minerva drew attention to the increased budget requests of the pending legislation.  She argued that the EPA, with the current budget climate, was under serious finanacial restrictions; any money allocated to these new programs would be removed from current intitatives, seriously comprimisin current EPA monitoring and restoration efforts.
    Ms. Minerva stated that H.R. 1775 was consistent with the EPA Clean Water Action Plan.  She suggest broadening the language f the bill to include "near shore marine habitats and associated ecosystems."
    Ms. Mierva stated that the EPA supports the general intent of H.R. 1096, but has concerns about implementation specifics.  She supports greater cooperation among agencies and programs, however is concerned that the language will make National Estuary Programs "less flexible" and therefore less efficient.  The EPA supports govenors being given the right to us 20% of State Revovling Funds for Plan Water programs.

Testimony of Ms. Yozell
    Ms. Yozell stressed the importance of estuaries and their current plight.  "Estuaries are suffering from water quality problems, declining habitat quality, and, in some ares, total habitat loss."  She established the role that NOAA has played in habitat restoation and made a case for NOAA's involvement in future restroaiton progams detailed by the bills under discussion.   She expressed support for H.R. 1775 and argued it would "further the progress NOAA has made in promoting esturain habitat restoriaton."  She did suggest that the Great Lakes be included under the auspices of this bill.
    Ms. Yozell stated that the Florida Keys need to be recognized as a



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Contributed by Sarah Robinson, AGI Government Affairs Interns

Posted March 23, 1999; Last Updated June 15, 1999


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