Warning that its decision to cut grant funding for the Bay Journal sets a “dangerous nationwide precedent,” Maryland’s two U.S. senators asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to reverse his agency’s decision in a letter on Oct. 18.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said the Bay Journal has “done a sterling job of delivering returns on investments” and that there was “no legitimate cause to deprive the residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed of such a vital source of information.”
In the letter, the senators said that “we are aware of no other examples of high-performing grantees having their EPA funding revoked under similar circumstances, meaning that this action sets a dangerous nationwide precedent.”
On Aug. 23, the EPA unexpectedly notified our nonprofit organization, Bay Journal Media, of its intent to revoke a six-year award after only two years of funding because of an unexplained “shift in priorities.”
The senators said any notion that Congress has shifted its priorities regarding the Chesapeake Bay “could not be further from the truth.” While the White House has proposed eliminating funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, the senators noted that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this summer voted to reauthorize the Bay Program at $90 million— the highest amount ever approved.
The senators noted that the Bay Journal supports the mission of state-federal agreements signed by state governors and previous EPA administrators in 2000 and 2014 which — like federal statutes establishing the Bay Program — call for promoting public information, education and stewardship as part of the Bay restoration effort.
“The mission of Bay Journal Media is directly in line with the priorities of the Congress and other elected officials throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” the letter stated.
They noted that the EPA’s most recent grant review praised the Bay Journal for “continued outstanding work.”
The agency’s action, if it stands, would prevent Bay Journal Media from getting the $325,000 grant it was slated to receive next year under a six-year competitive grant award made Jan. 20, 2016. The money constitutes about 40 percent of Bay Journal funding, with the rest coming from other grants and reader donations.
The Bay Journal decision is one of several that have raised the eyebrows of lawmakers. Federal grants are traditionally reviewed and approved by career employees, but the Trump administration this summer put a political appointee in charge of reviewing all EPA grants.
We are appealing the EPA’s decision within the agency, and are receiving pro bono legal assistance from the Democracy Forward Foundation, a Washington-DC based nonprofit organization.