The Bush administration called for an increase for the EPA’s Bay Program Office in it budget for next year, although it offered no funding for the popular Small Watershed Grants Program.

The proposed spending plan for the 2003 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, calls for spending $20.6 million on the Bay Program, an increase from the $19.5 million actually appropriated by Congress for this year.

But Congress had also approved $1.75 million in the EPA’s budget for the Small Watershed Grants Program this year. The administration’s budget includes no money for the program, which provides grants to local governments and organizations for community-based restoration and education efforts.

This reflects an effort by the administration to save money by eliminating all congressional “earmarks” which were added in appropriations bills approved last fall.

But when Congress approved legislation to reauthorize the Bay Program’s existence two years ago, lawmakers specifically required it to support the watershed grants program. If Congress does not add more money, the Bay Program would have to cut into its budget to fund the grants program. “If there is no Congressional earmark, we would still be required to maintain the grants program,” said Peter Marx, of the Bay Program Office.

The EPA’s Bay Program Office is the focal point for coordinating the state-federal cleanup effort. It supports core Bay monitoring and modeling efforts, as well as Bay-related research, public outreach and state restoration activities.

For the most part, proposed funding patterns for other Chesapeake-related activities called for roughly the same amounts as were proposed by the administration last year, but not for any of the money added by Congress.

“It pretty much holds the line,” summed up Charlie Stek, an aide to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD.

The budget calls for spending $3.35 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the same base budget as last year. It did not include $1.2 million that was added by Congress for education programs. It include¹ $850,000 for NOAA’s oyster restoration work, the same as proposed by the administration last year, but not the $2 million approved by Congress for oyster restoration.

The NOAA office is heavily involved with oyster restoration, coordinating Baywide fisheries management, promoting education, researching the impacts of atmospheric deposition and supporting basic toxics research.
Ìor the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, the budget includes $800,000, the same as proposed last year, but less than the $1.2 million that was ultimately appropriated by Congress.

The budget includes $2 million for Army Corps of Engineers oyster restoration projects next year, not the $3 million approved by Congress for this year.

The budget calls for cutting the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program; its Toxic Substances Hydrology Program would be cut by about $20 million — a quarter of their total budget. Those monitoring efforts provide important water quality information to state and federal agencies — including the collection of water quality data for the Bay Program.

Overall, the budget calls for spending $7.6 billion for the EPA, more than the administration called for in last year’s budget, but less than the $7.9 billion Congress appropriated. Most of the cuts came from eliminating Congressional earmarks, although environmentalists criticized it for continuing to shift enforcement away from the EPA and to the states, something Congress rejected last year.

The budget would create a new Targeted Watershed Project, with $21 million in funding. In selected watersheds, various stakeholders would get grants to support restoration actions.

The budget proposes $19.2 million for the National Estuaries Program, which supports cleanups in about 20 estuaries around the nation, down from the $24.5 million approved for this year. It proposes $477,000 for Long Island Sound cleanup efforts, down from $2.5 million approved this year, and it called for $4.3 million for the Gulf of Mexico, an increase from $4.2 million this year.

In other budget highlights, the National Wildlife Refuges around the Bay could benefit from a sharp $54 million increase in funding proposed for refuges nationwide.