Washington, DC – President Barack Obama has signed into law the first reauthorization of the National Estuary Program (NEP) since it expired in 2010, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the 28 individual NEPs to continue to support conservation and improvement at estuaries around the United States.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who championed the bipartisan legislation in the Senate, released the following statement on the signing:
“The National Estuaries Program helps to improve beautiful natural places and key economic assets like Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. The program now stands on firmer footing and will be able to continue its important work for years to come. Through this reauthorization, I’m proud to carry on the tradition of conservation established by my fellow Rhode Islander, John Chafee. He led the effort to create this program and cared deeply about preserving estuaries and our natural world as a whole. I thank Senator Vitter for working with me to advance this bill in the Senate.”
The NEP was first established in 1987 by the late Senator John Chafee (R-RI) to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment. The new law, sponsored in the Senate by Senators Whitehouse, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and David Vitter (R-LA), authorizes the NEP at $26.5 million per year from Fiscal Years 2017 through 2021. While the program has been sustained through the appropriations process, the law authorizing the NEP expired in 2010 and Congress had failed to make important improvements that are contained in the new authorization. Those improvements include a competitive grant program to help address the causes of urgent challenges, such as habitat loss and flooding, and limits on the amount of funding the federal government can use for overhead to help ensure that more funds are directed to field programs.
Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Estuary Program was one of the original six estuaries in the program, and over the years has brought millions of dollars in federal funding to the state. In 2013, Rhode Island’s ocean economy, which includes the Narragansett Bay, generated $2.1 billion and provided for over 41,000 jobs.
“The National Estuary Program is critical to the continued protection and restoration of waterbodies such as Narragansett Bay,” said Tom Borden, Program Director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, “and investing in clean water will result in improvements to a host of businesses from fishermen to tourism that rely on a clean Narragansett Bay.”
“Senator Whitehouse has been a tireless champion for estuaries and oceans. This bill demonstrates bipartisan support for protecting places that we care about and that are essential for both our ecology and economy,” said Rich Innes, Executive Director of the Association of National Estuary Programs.
The NEP covers more than 42 percent of the continental U.S. shoreline and 15 percent of all Americans currently live within NEP designated watersheds. In the past decade, NEPs around the country have restored and protected over one million acres of estuarine habitat. It is estimated that the nation’s estuaries provide habitat for more than 75 percent of America’s commercial fish catch. According to NOAA, commercial fisheries landings in 2014 were valued at $5.4 billion, and 11 million recreational fishermen took 68 million saltwater fishing trips.