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U.S. House again votes to restrict federal enforcement of Chesapeake Bay cleanup

For the second time in a year, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to restrict the federal government from penalizing states for missing pollution-reduction goals — such as those guiding cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

The measure was again pushed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who says the Environmental Protection Agency has been “hijacking states’ water quality strategies.”

It was attached to a bill approved Thursday that includes budget appropriations for EPA and Department of Interior programs.

Maryland’s congressional delegation voted 7-0 against the amendment, with Rep. Steny Hoyer not voting. The amendment passed 213-202.

Eastern Shore Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s lone Republican in Congress, then voted in favor of the spending bill, which passed 217-199. The rest of the state’s delegation joined all of the chamber’s Democrats in opposing it.

EPA’s power to enforce pollution targets is considered a key element of a 2010 agreement between the federal government and Chesapeake Bay watershed states to restore the estuary’s health by 2025. Under the cleanup blueprint, each state has committed to reducing the load of pollution that washes into the bay and its tributaries.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker called the amendment “shortsighted” and said it threatens progress at improving the bay’s health.

Scientists recently said they finally can say for sure that bay ecology is improving, and an assessment released this week found that the Chesapeake is hitting goals for reduced sediment and phosphorus, but not its target for nitrogen.

“With this amendment, the House voted to undermine the Bay states and what stands to be the greatest environmental success story of our time: Saving the Chesapeake Bay,” Baker said in a statement.

The legislation would need Senate approval to become law.

The Senate did not approve a similar amendment the House adopted last year. Gov. Larry Hogan joined environmentalists in urging the upper chamber to reject the proposal in February, as it faced a deadline to fund the federal government.

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