A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants President Trump to maintain the current funding level for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts when the administration releases its first budget blueprint.
While the EPA is widely expected to be hit by potentially deep budget cuts when the administration releases a budget outline in a few weeks, five Republicans and 12 Democrats from the House of Representatives signed a letter last week asking that funding for the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program be kept at $73 million.
The lawmakers wrote that the Chesapeake is a “national treasure” which serves as a recreational resource for millions of people as well as being a “significant economic engine in the region, driving tourists to the area and helping sustain jobs in local fisheries, in commerce, and more.”
The letter credited the Bay Program with engaging states, federal agencies, local governments, scientists, nonprofits and others to work on Chesapeake restoration. As a result, they said, Bay health is “improving significantly” but they warned that “without continued collaboration among stakeholders, this progress would be threatened. We must ensure that this important work continues, and that federal funds continue to be available to support this effort.”
The EPA’s Bay Program funding supports staff in an Annapolis office as well as core programs such as monitoring and modeling. But most of the money goes in grants to states, local governments, nonprofits and others working on Bay issues.
The letter was signed by Reps. Robert Wittman, R-VA; Robert “Bobby” Scott; D-VA; Andy Harris, R-MD; John Sarbanes, D-MD; Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC; Gerald Connolly, D-VA; Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD; Steny Hoyer, D-MD; Donald Beyer, D-VA; Elijah Cummings, D-MD; John Delaney, D-MD; Anthony Brown, D-MD; Jamie Raskin, D-MD; Barbara Comstock, R-VA; John Faso, R-NY; Donald McEachin, D-VA; and Scott Taylor, R-VA.
Trump administration officials have said they expect to send a budget outline to Congress in the next few weeks, but have not given a date. It’s unclear to what extent Bay-related funding would be affected by the cuts EPA is expected to sustain.
Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, was a member of the House Freedom Caucus. The caucus urged the incoming president in a December 2016 letter to revoke the Obama administration’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which prioritized spending on Bay efforts.
One Trump administration official has voiced support for the Bay cleanup, including general support for funding it.
During his Senate confirmation hearing in January, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was critical of other agency programs, praised the Bay effort. He told lawmakers the state-federal partnership was “something that should be commended and celebrated” and that it “ought to be a model” for other regions.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had joined in a friend of the court brief siding with the American Farm Bureau Federation’s challenge of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, which set cleanup goals for states and rivers, as an example of EPA overreach.
At the hearing, Pruitt backed off that criticism, acknowledging that the TMDL had been developed through years of collaboration between the EPA and the states. “The effort they engaged in is something states ought to model,” Pruitt said, adding that EPA “is providing assistance to those states.”
In the hearing, he also pledged to enforce the TMDL: “I can commit to you that I will in fact do so.”
In responses to follow-up questions submitted by senators, he was a bit more equivocal. For instance, when asked whether he would support the TMDL if it again faced a court challenge, he responded that that the “TMDL should be a cooperative effort” and that “I would expect to consult with the States and other interested stakeholders about the issues raised in such litigation.”
Still, he again pledged to enforce the TMDL as administrator. “I will continue to enforce the law and will continue EPA's leadership role as a member of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. I agree that progress would be difficult without a collaborative process.”