Virginia lawmakers declined to back a $300 million bond package that would fund wastewater treatment plant improvements in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The bond, which passed unanimously in the Senate, hit a wall Wednesday in the House of Delegates. An Appropriations subcommittee voted to shelve the matter until next year.
The decision is a setback for environment groups, localities, sewer authorities and others that want to use bonds to help pay for upgrades that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus discharges in the bay and its tributaries.
Ann Jennings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director in Virginia, said by not issuing the bond the state is essentially putting the onus on local governments to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. The foundation and others will continue to lobby for the bond’s passage, she said.
“There are in fact at least a dozen other organizations that will continue to work this as it comes over from the Senate,” she said in an email.
The legislation springs from theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 15-year effort to restore water quality in the bay, where algae blooms, fish kills and beach closures occur every year.
The EPA directed six watershed states, including Virginia, and the District of Columbia to devise ways to reduce pollution. In addition to targeting wastewater treatment plants, states are clamping down on agricultural operations, stormwater runoff and other sources.
The $300 million would be divided into grants and awarded to sewer districts in the bay’s watershed, which stretches from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Eastern Shore.
There are 85 wastewater treatment plants under consideration in the Senate bill. Among them are facilities run by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Newport News, York and Mathews counties, Williamsburg, Norfolk and other localities.
House lawmakers may reconsider the bill, especially when they meet with Senate members in the coming weeks to hash out details of Virginia’s two-year budget. Gov. Bob McDonnell did not include the bond in his version of the budget released in December.