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Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Bay cleanup funding at risk in federal budget battle

  • February 15, 2011

The Chesapeake Bay is in the middle of a battle of spending philosophies shaping up between Republicans in Congress —especially those in the House — and the White House. The House GOP, which wants to sharply and immediately roll back federal spending, is calling for a 30 percent cut in the overall EPA budget this year, including a 20 percent slash in the amount set aside to oversee its Chesapeake Bay cleanup operation. The White House wants an increase in Chesapeake spending not only for this year, but also for 2012.

The battle is playing out on two fronts. First is spending for the current 2011 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Congress never passed the annual appropriations bills to fund most federal agencies. Instead, they have been operating under a continuing resolution which funds most agencies at last year’s levels. But the continuing resolution expires March 4, and many newly elected House Republicans want to slash $100 billion from the level requested by President Obama for this year (which also works out to more than $60 billion cut below 2010 levels.) The EPA, whose regulatory programs are disliked by many in the GOP, has been targeted for particularly severe cuts of 30 percent. The biggest hit would be Clean Water State Revolving Load Fund, which makes low interest loans to communities for wastewater treatment plants, stormwater systems and other clean water infrastructure improvements. It would be slashed from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $690 million. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates state and federal Bay cleanup activities, would be cut from $50 million in 2010 to $40 million, a 20 percent cut.

The impact would be severe as half the fiscal year is already over, so the full cut would have to be absorbed over just a few months. Obama had called for spending $63 million on the Bay Program this year. Other Bay related programs would also be impacted as the Department of Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and land conservation programs were also singled out for large reductions in the GOP plan, but the House documents do not spell out their direct impacts on the Bay. Even as Congress, and ultimately the White House, try to resolve differences over this year’s spending, the Obama administration on Monday released its proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. In it, the administration signaled that the Bay is still a priority. It called for spending $67 million for EPA Bay Program, or $4 million more than its request for this year. That increase would come even as the administration proposed cuts in other EPA programs, including a reduction in the state Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund to $1.55 billion, and cutting Great Lakes restoration efforts by $125 million, or 25 percent. In addition, Obama’s proposed budget would provide $33.7 million, an increase of $12.4 million over 2010 levels, for Department of Interior programs related to the Bay which are carried out by the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Service, and National Park Service. The president’s budget would also increase funding for agricultural conservation programs nationwide, which provides incentives for farmers to take actions to reduce runoff and protect streams and other resources, from $2.88 billion in 2010 to $3.64 billion in 2012.

This budget showdown will begin today as House Republicans are expected to press for passage of a new continuing resolution bill for the remainder of this year which contains their steep cuts. But the measure is likely to run into trouble in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and where even some Republicans have expressed dismay about the proposed cuts. While the continuing resolution fight plays out over the next several weeks, the 2012 budget battle will likely take months to resolve. The stakes for the Bay will be high in both. “The House proposal would make devastating cuts to clean water programs, while the administration’s budget honors the federal commitment to achieve pollution reduction goals, and is on extraordinary commitment in these touch budget times,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said in a statement. “CBF urges the Senate to reject the House cuts, support funding the president’s budget, and work to restore funding to the State Revolving Fund, one of the few tools that help cities and towns reduce pollution.”

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About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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