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Protecting the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary

March 20, 2017
Press Release
Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

The Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary are precious features of our life, culture and economy here in the First Congressional District of New York. We are blessed to be surrounded by water on three sides; however, with this blessing comes the responsibility of ensuring our waters are supported and protected. Pollution, overdevelopment, and other negative impacts have caused the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary to suffer over the years. These two waterways have even been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency to be two of the 28 estuaries of “national significance” due to their threatened status from pollution and overdevelopment. The Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary are key natural and economic resources, and we must do everything we can to protect these natural treasures.

An essential part of our local recreation and tourism industries, the Sound is relied upon by thousands of Long Islanders as a means of living, and is home to more than 9 million people living in the surrounding coastal communities. It also provides a diverse ecosystem with more than 170 species of fish, over 1,200 invertebrates and many different species of migratory birds. The Peconic Estuary is juxtaposed between the North and South Forks of Long Island, with a watershed which begins in the heart of our district at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Waters from this estuary flow into the Peconic Bay, which then leads into the Block Island Sound. Our coastal communities on both forks rely on this estuary; we can and must do more to ensure its preservation.

I recently held a press conference in Mattituck where I requested full funding for two essential environmental protection programs. The first of these is the Long Island Sound Program, a vital initiative dedicated to protecting water quality, restoring wetlands and local beaches, and supporting various local conservation projects. It also addresses the urgent and challenging issues, such as nitrogen, harmful algae blooms, and flooding or wetland loss, that threaten the ecological and economic well-being of coastal areas. Last July, the House of Representatives passed a bill that contained $10 million for the Long Island Sound Program; unfortunately, the bill received no action in the Senate. It is so important that we secure this funding, and I’ve pressed House leadership directly on how essential $10 million or more for this program would be for our region’s environment and economy. Additionally, I recently joined with U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging him to oppose cuts to the Long Island Sound program. In the letter, we illustrate how any cuts to this program would have a detrimental impact on ongoing efforts to restore and protect the Sound’s water quality and harm the quality of life for the millions of our constituents who live, work and recreate on or near the Sound.

The second of these programs is the National Estuary Program. An important EPA wetlands protection program, the National Estuary Program was established by the Clean Water Act and grants funding to state and local programs which promote water quality and wetland restoration. This critical program supports both the Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound; as such, ensuring they receive proper funding is a top priority. In the last Congress, I helped lead the bipartisan effort to successfully reauthorize the National Estuary Program which resulted in a $26.5 million appropriation of funding. As a founding member of the bipartisan Congressional Estuary Caucus, I am calling on Congress to protect this funding so it can be used to the protect the Sound and support so many other waterways in the United States. 

In addition, last Congress, alongside former Congressman Steve Israel, I introduced the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act (H.R 2930) to reauthorize essential water quality funding for the Sound. This legislation, which I plan on reintroducing in this new Congress, would propose tens of millions of dollars in annual funding for water quality, shore restoration, and additional focus, oversight and coordination of federal activities related to the restoration of the Sound. 

As co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the Coastal Communities Caucus, I’m calling on my colleagues to help ensure that both the Long Island Sound Program and National Estuary Program are fully supported and funded in the upcoming appropriations process; and certainly not eliminated. While we have made great efforts to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary so far, there is still so much more we can do to ensure these natural treasures are safeguarded for generations to come. We must now redouble our efforts to protect the quality of our waterways, which are depended upon by millions of people. I am committed to making sure they remain funded, supported and preserved; there is so much more we can do to support the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, and I will continue working in Congress to ensure our waterways remain protected.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) is a co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus and a founding member of the bipartisan Congressional Estuary Caucus.