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Op-Ed: Working Together To Protect Our Environment


Location: Washington, DC

While all the news about healthcare would make you think that Republicans and Democrats just can't do anything together, we are continuing to work in a bipartisan way to protect some of our cherished natural resources. Just this week we worked together to protect both our forested Highlands region and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Highlands region of mountains and hills runs from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and is nestled next to the most densely populated area of our country. This area has been a refuge to wildlife and a natural retreat for millions of city dwellers. Over 150 endangered or at-risk species make the Highlands their home. Also, this region's abundant rainfall provides clean drinking water to tens of millions.

This week, I joined Republican and Democratic colleagues to support funding for the Highlands Conservation Act. The House of Representatives supported $4 million in grants to protect the highlands across the four-state region. This federal money is matched dollar for dollar by state, local and private organizations meaning that $8 million will be available to protect undeveloped lands.

In recent years, development has grown rapidly in the Highlands. Increasing population threatens to fragment the natural beauty of the region and disrupt important wildlife habitats. Together with my colleagues in both parties, I am pushing for the resources to protect these beautiful open spaces.

This week we saw further bipartisan work to protect another precious natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the 16th District is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, meaning that runoff from our homes and fields ends up draining through the Bay.

The Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is an incredibly complex ecosystem cherished for its beauty and natural resources. For centuries the Bay has provided seafood for the east coast and the world.

Unfortunately, the Chesapeake's watershed is also one of the most heavily populated areas in the nation and has for decades been abused. Many of the Bay's most cherished products, such as oysters and crabs, have seen their populations rapidly decrease due to pollution and overharvesting.

Because the watershed reaches into six states, the federal government has taken a leading role in the effort to clean up the Bay and restore it to full health. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a dedicated Chesapeake Bay Office that coordinates federal, state and local clean-up efforts.

This week the House overwhelmingly supported NOAA's mission by passing a bill to provide $79 million in funding over the next four years. NOAA uses these funds to provide grants to clean up the Bay, but they also use this money to educate citizens on how we can contribute to the good health of the Bay. These programs are aimed at both schoolchildren and communities within the watershed.

Since federal, state and local governments have invested significant resources into cleaning up the Chesapeake, this week the House passed legislation that will help to cut down on duplicative spending. The Chesapeake Bay partnership includes ten federal agencies, six states, and thousands of localities, so Congress wants to ensure that no dollar is wasted.

The Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act will institute performance based measures to ensure that restoration efforts are producing results. First of all, this bill calls for a comprehensive accounting of all Bay restoration activities that would be provided to both Congress and the public. Secondly, the bill will provide a new means to evaluate the success and efficiency of Bay restoration programs.

Another bill that I hope will soon come before the House is the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. This is another bill with the wide bipartisan support of 236 Members. This legislation will make permanent the enhanced deduction for conservation easement donations. We should be encouraging the preservation of open space and I believe that this tax deduction is critical to preserving land in our area. In 2006 and 2007, more than 535,000 acres of land was donated nationwide.

There's always a lot of partisan squabbling in Washington, but I'm happy to report that it isn't keeping Democrats and Republicans from working together to protect our natural resources. We have different opinions about many things, but we all treasure this land and the remarkable plants and animals that live in our waters and woods.

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