WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tom Carper (D-DE) today introduced legislation to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP) at nearly double its previous annual funding levels. 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.
“Protecting estuaries like the Barataria-Terrebonne preserves their ecosystems and rebuilds coastline,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This bill increases the National Estuary Program’s ability to carry out preservation projects benefiting Louisiana so that future generations can continue to hunt and fish.”
“Estuaries like Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay are home to fisheries and wildlife, and are major economic drivers. As climate change advances, it’s never been more important to have healthy estuaries that provide a natural buffer between high winds and storm surges and coastal homes and businesses,” said Whitehouse, who serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Oceans Caucus. “I’m proud to carry on the bipartisan tradition of stewardship of our national estuaries that was established by the late Senator John Chafee from Rhode Island.”
Authorization for the NEP is set to expire in 2021. The new legislation would provide authorization for the NEP at $50 million per year for five years beginning in 2022, up from $26.5 million annually in the previous reauthorization.
“We strongly applaud the leadership of Senator Cassidy [along with Senators Whitehouse and Carper] to advance this legislation to address Louisiana’s land loss crisis,” said Dean Blanchard, Acting Director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “Funding from this program empowers local people and their ongoing love of the land, water, culture, and each other to use the best science available to address the estuary’s perils.”
An estuary is a partially enclosed, coastal body of water where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuarine regions of the United States contribute considerably to the national economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estuary regions cover only 13 percent of the land area of the continental United States, but make up nearly half of the country’s economic output.
Estuaries are facing considerable threats. It is estimated that the United States lost more than half of the wetlands that existed in the Thirteen Colonies by the 1980s. Many bays that once constituted important fisheries are now considered “dead zones” filled with nutrient pollution, chemical wastes, harmful algae, and marine debris.
“NEPs help partners acquire open space, restore and enhance degraded areas that provide critical ecosystem services and improve habitat,” said Pam DiBona, Chair of the Association of National Estuary Programs. “This forward looking legislation enables the National Estuary Program to fulfill its mission to protect and improve the nation’s water quality.”