Congress stepped up spending for Bay-related activities when it approved funding for the current year in January, including more funds for oyster restoration and the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
But funding may be more problematic next year, as the Bush administration would sharply reduce spending for some Chesapeake activities in its $2.4 trillion 2005 budget, which was released in February.
While it’s not unusual for an administration to propose less funding than Congress ultimately approves, the administration is seeking strict caps on most domestic spending programs as it seeks to rein in a staggering federal deficit expected to top $500 billion.
Overall, it seeks to limit spending on those programs to 0.5 percent, less than the rate of inflation. If Congress abides by those caps, it could make it difficult to restore funding for the 2005 Fiscal Year, which begins Oct. 1, to the levels approved by Congress for this year.
Further, figures from the administration’s Office of Management and Budget indicate that continued long-term cuts in those programs would be needed in the future to reduce the deficit.
Although the current fiscal year began last October, Congress did not finalize its spending bills until January—just weeks before the President Bush released his 2005 budget proposals.
For the EPA’s Bay Program Office, which supports the core efforts to coordinate the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, the president’s budget would slightly increase spending, from the $20.77 million approved this year to $20.81 million in 2005.
Next year’s budget does not include $2 million that Congress had approved for the Small Watershed Grants Program, which provides funding for local restoration efforts.
But the administration did propose a one-year, $10 million competitive grants program to support innovative cleanup and restoration efforts within the watershed. It is a pilot program that would provide grants ranging from $300,000 to $1 million. EPA officials say the program will be rotated among various watersheds across the nation each year.
“This selection of Chesapeake Bay for this pilot reflects the urgent need to protect the health of this national treasure that just happens to be in our front yard,” said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt.
At the same time, the administration calls for cutting the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund by $492 million from the $1.34 billion approved by Congress this year. Under the formula used to distribute funding, that would cost the Bay states nearly $50 million in money used to support wastewater treatment plant upgrades and other water quality improvement projects.
The administration proposed a nearly identical cut last year, but funding was restored by Congress.
The office of U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-MD, released a statement calling Bush’s budget “simply a bust for the Chesapeake Bay.” Last fall, a bipartisan group of 22 federal lawmakers from the Bay watershed sent Bush a letter asking him to commit $1 billion a year to help meet Bay restoration goals.
The president requested $2 million in 2005 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office, which supports fish monitoring programs, Bay grass restoration, fisheries research and ecosystem management planning in the Bay. That was the same as the administration’s proposal for this year, but less than the $3.5 million approved by Congress.
The administration did support $500,000 for NOAA’s work on developing multispecies management programs for Bay fisheries, the same as was approved by Congress. The budget includes no funding for NOAA’s Bay education program; (Congress approved $2.5 million for the current year), and it proposed $600,000 for next year’s blue crab research; (Congress approved $2 million for this year).
While most of the administration’s requests are in line with its original proposals from last year, some are actual cuts. For instance, the budget calls for eliminating funding for the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. For the current year, it proposed spending $798,000 for the program, and Congress approved $2.5 million—the most ever for the program.
It would also slash almost all Army Corps of Engineers oyster restoration money for the Bay, although it had supported the initiative in earlier years, and Congress had approved about $5 million for this year—the most ever.
In agriculture, the administration would increase spending for conservation, but not to the levels approved in the 2002 Farm Bill. Instead, some of the conservation funds are being routed to programs emphasizing food and agriculture safety to address concerns such as mad cow disease.
Farm Bill conservation programs are the largest single source of funding to support a variety of programs that help reduce runoff from agricultural lands.