Carol Shea-Porter: Protecting Great Bay is a national responsibility
I recently held a town hall meeting in Greenland to provide local officials and community members an opportunity to discuss the future of Great Bay and innovative ways to reduce nitrogen and other sources of pollution. The event was not intended to criticize or point fingers, but to discuss ways to save Great Bay.
One gentleman asked me to seek federal help for wastewater treatment, and I agreed that there is an appropriate role for the federal government to play, since the Great Bay is a national resource. America's coastline belongs to all of us, and to our future citizens, and we must protect it.
I love our bay. I have spent many hours of my life around it, first as a kid, and then with my own children. I believe Great Bay is a natural treasure and that federal and local governments must work together, along with individuals and groups, to prevent Great Bay from becoming permanently damaged like the Chesapeake Bay or Long Island Sound.
While the Greenland forum itself was not about funding, a number of people and some newspaper editors have wondered why I don't simply fight for federal money to support local wastewater treatment facilities that will reduce nitrogen, or at least stop "allowing" the federal government to set acceptable rates for nitrogen and leave the costs up to the state and local communities. I share concerns about the cost of these projects for local communities, and I have consistently fought for increased federal resources to address challenges surrounding environmental and water protection.
In my first two terms, I was able to secure federal funds to help communities with environmental challenges, including the costs of wastewater treatment. I stand behind these projects, and I believe that Great Bay should be another example of Congress stepping up to the plate and helping local communities.
The federal funds that I secured were direct appropriation requests, or "earmarks," the much vilified congressionally directed appropriations that helped return taxpayer money to local communities.
Even though the 110th Congress cleaned up the often-abused earmark process to make it transparent, the 112th Congress banned them. It is now up to federal agencies to make funding decisions. I always felt that it was better to allow members of Congress, the people who know their districts best, to submit transparent funding requests for particular projects. Former Sen. Judd Gregg and I often made the same requests to help our state's environment because these issues transcend politics. But now, members of Congress can only make "programmatic requests." They are not allowed to name particular projects or communities (such as "Great Bay" or "Portsmouth") to receive funding.
I can and still do strongly advocate for our district with the EPA and other federal agencies. I support the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which could provide federal resources to help our local communities as they upgrade water treatment plants. I believe the Water Resources Research Act — which would help water research institutes conduct studies on water supplies and ways of addressing water problems — should be fully funded this year. And I believe that Congress should continue to invest in the National Estuaries Program to help ensure the ecological and economic viability of America's estuaries. This funding could help local communities as they work to protect Great Bay, but without congressionally directed appropriations, there is no guarantee that this funding will go to towns in our district.
There is another challenge facing communities in need of funding to protect Great Bay — sequestration. The arbitrary and reckless cuts that slow economic growth have wreaked havoc on funds meant to support community improvement projects. Since 2010, including the cuts from sequestration, the EPA's budget has been slashed by more than 20 percent. I do not support sequestration. I believe it's a terrible policy, and I've cosponsored legislation that would cancel sequestration and replace it with a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
I believe the communities surrounding Great Bay are worthy of federal support. And I will continue to advocate for funding that helps them overcome the fiscal challenges they face in protecting Great Bay. But we need a Congress that has the courage to end sequestration and compromise on a responsible budget that protects programs vital to communities and makes tough choices about spending we don't need. We agree that we are all stewards of this Great Bay, and that our legacy must be a bay that is teeming with life, clean enough to sail or fish in, and inspiring enough to take one's breath away.
Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire's First District in Congress.