Environmental activists from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed converged Wednesday on the District of Columbia to urge Congress to reject the Trump administration’s bid to slash federal funding for the Bay restoration effort.
More than 90 members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition packed a House meeting room to hear bipartisan pledges of support from nine members of Congress and three senators who represent Bay states. One speaker after another denounced President Trump’s proposal to eliminate funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office and to make deep cuts in other federal programs that contribute to the restoration effort.
“The President proposes, Congress disposes, so we’ll be disposing with that budget quickly,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-PA. Cartwright, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which takes the lead on drafting the federal budget. He assured the crowd that Trump’s spending plan would be “dead on arrival” as soon as the formal budget proposal was delivered to lawmakers in mid-May.
But Cartwright and others warned of a struggle in the months ahead to maintain the current level of funding for the Bay Program — which got $73 million last year — and for other federal programs that funnel resources into environmental research and restoration efforts.
The coalition, which represents 225 local, state and national groups from all six Chesapeake watershed states and the District of Columbia, has been organizing congressional lobbying events the past several years. But the turnout this year was the highest ever, said Chante Coleman, the coalition’s deputy director. More than 90 coalition members came for the day, she said, which is half again as many as showed up last year. Coleman suggested the starkness of Trump’s proposal to completely zero out Bay Program funding helped spike turnout.
“It got people fired up,” she said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, also helped fire up the crowd by labeling as “outrageous” Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Bay Program funding. While echoing the assurance of others that Congress won’t be bound to that proposal, he warned that it could still lead to serious cuts, which to some might seem moderate by comparison.
“The Trump budget should not even be used as a yardstick,” Cardin said. While the Bay enjoys bipartisan support within the six-state watershed, he warned that other members of Congress could be swayed by “outside influence” from national farm and development groups that have opposed the Bay pollution cleanup plan.
Others offered advice on how to pitch Bay funding to lawmakers.
“It is a competition for funds, folks,” noted Rep. Rob Wittman, R-VA, who is co-chairman of the Bay congressional caucus. “We’re in a resource-challenged environment.”
As the activists prepared to fan out across Capitol Hill to visit three dozen congressional offices, Wittman urged them to stress the economic importance of the Chesapeake, and of how federal spending to restore it represents an investment in maintaining and increasing jobs in the region.
A bipartisan group of 36 House members from across the nation made just that point in a letter sent Tuesday to the White House opposing the proposed elimination of all of EPA’s regional restoration programs, which also include the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound and Gulf of Mexico. It cited the 2014 peer-reviewed study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that estimated the Bay provides $107 billion in economic benefits annually to the region, and that cleaning it up would increase those benefits by $22 billion a year.
For its part, the coalition last week wrote House Appropriations subcommittee leaders urging them to keep level funding for EPA’s Bay Program. The letters also sought stable funding for Bay-related work in other agencies, particularly:
-- $30.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the “Rivers of the Chesapeake” initiative, which aims to protect 8,000 acres in the watersheds of five major Bay tributaries.
-- $12 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to continue studies and monitoring in the Chesapeake watershed.
-- $3 million for Chesapeake regional programs run by the National Park Service, including the Captain John Smith Chesapeake and Star Spangled Banner national historic trails.
The coalition called for a tripling of the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $4 billion, which it said would enable nearly $900 million in low-interest loans for local governments across the watershed to repair and replace crumbling water and sewer infrastructure, upgrade wastewater treatment plants and address polluted runoff from farms and developed areas.
And with Congress expected to begin work soon on a new federal Farm Bill, the coalition appealed to the Trump administration and to House appropriators to restore funding for pollution-reducing conservation practices on Bay region farms. Those efforts received $47.6 million annually in the 2008 Farm bill, the coalition letter said, but have received just $10.8 million annually lately.
One after another, lawmakers urged the assembled activists to go out and make the case for federal funding for the Bay, arguing that its future is at stake.
“We’re really going to need your help,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD. “This is our moment of great need for this coalition.”