After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Congressman Goodlatte and You

(Posted by Doug Siglin.)

Doug Siglin
Doug Siglin, Federal Affairs Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Perhaps you read in the papers that the Goodlatte amendment to withhold funds from implementation of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Daily Maximum Load) is dead for the moment. But don’t bother to celebrate: It or something similar will be offered again not long after the spring rains. Here are my thoughts on why, and on what you need to do about it.

I don’t claim to know Congressman Bob Goodlatte personally, but I was a Capitol Hill staffer for many years, and I met a lot of Congressmen like him. In Congressman Goodlatte’s worldview, the federal government should be small and unobtrusive. It should provide for the national defense and deliver the mail, as the old saw goes, and not do too much more. Regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency represent the worst possible face of the federal government. In this worldview, the EPA is a limiter of freedom, self-reliance, hard work, and the American way of life. Newt Gingrich, who is advocating the complete elimination of the EPA, also shares such a view.

Congressman Goodlatte has said several times that the EPA was “overzealous” and made a “regulatory power grab,” exceeding its authority in developing the Bay-wide TMDL. He feels very strongly that now it is Congress’ role to stop the TMDL and the related state watershed implementation plans dead in their tracks. He lost the first round last week when the Senate refused to accept his amendment, but he appears to believe what he says, and you can bet he’s not going home with his tail between his legs.

I don’t share much of Congressman Goodlatte’s worldview, but surely he’s entitled to his beliefs, and the voters of Virginia’s sixth district have elected him to represent them ten different times. I even grudgingly respect him for fighting hard for what he believes.

Here’s the significance of this discussion about Bob Goodlatte: A substantial majority of the U.S. House of Representatives now hold a worldview like his, and many of them are far more adamant than he is. Moreover, even much of the U.S. Senate now holds similar views. The next attempt to defund the TMDL will come on the 2012 EPA funding bill, most likely within the next six weeks. It may or may not be sponsored by Congressman Goodlatte. However it comes, it will almost certainly pass the House, and it could be far harder this time for the Senate to stop.

So the rest of this is about you. If you’re reading this, you’re interested in the TMDL – and chances are good that you want to see it succeed. So, now that you know that Congressman Goodlatte or someone else who shares his worldview is going to try again soon to blow up the TMDL, are you just going to sit there? “Politics ain’t beanbag,” said the fictional Mr. Dooley, meaning that it’s not an easy game.

I’ll update that for the internet age: politics ain’t armchair or deskchair. The right response to a significant political threat to what you believe in is to get up out of your chair and act, not just to sit there and wish that someone else will make it go away.

So here’s what you can do:

  • Call and ask for an appointment with a congressional aide and tell him or her why the TMDL is critical to the region’s future.
  • Make a substantial contribution to an advocacy group working on the issue.
  • Write a strong letter to a newspaper editor or a website.
  • Send an attaboy (or attagirl) to a member of Congress who is willing to stand up for the Bay restoration plan.
  • Do something to fend off the attack.

Refusing to act out of indifference, or political cynicism, or the false feeling that you can’t make a difference, simply doesn’t cut it as a response to a dedicated political opponent.

Two centuries ago, the conservative French political philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote that every nation has the government it deserves. A modest update of that thought might be that every democratic nation’s people get the policies they deserve. Unless you and a lot of other people with a different worldview than Congressman Goodlatte get legislatively active right now, you may have to live with the demise of the Bay restoration that we’ve waited so long for, and worked so hard to get. And you will deserve it.

(Doug Siglin is the federal affairs director in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Capitol Hill office. He has worked in D.C. as a congressional staffer or environmental lobbyist for nearly 30 years.)

2 Responses to Congressman Goodlatte and You

  1. I just herd something on the radio this morning about a bill that supports drilling near the mouth of our bay? BAD,BAD,BAD,BAD!

  2. I don’t want to take the focus off the need to act to protect the TMDL, but, yes, the House Natural Resources Committee moved legislation yesterday to re-open oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf, including off the coast of Virginia near the mouth of the Bay. Congressman Sarbanes tried to strip out the Virginia language but lost. The bill will now move to the House floor, most likely in May.