The Trump Administration is proposing to spend $7.3 million on the Chesapeake Bay Program next year.
That’s $7.3 million more than it proposed in last year’s budget, when it called for eliminating it and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's other regional water quality programs. But it’s 10 percent of what the Bay restoration program has been receiving — and significantly less than Congress is poised to approve for 2018.
It’s part of a broader budget proposal released Monday that calls for an overall 23 percent cut for the EPA in the 2019 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The budget would also preserve the Great Lakes regional initiative, but likewise slash it by 90 percent, while eliminating most other regional water programs, including those for the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound and Lake Champlain.
Most of the Bay money would be steered toward water quality monitoring, with funding eliminated for state and local restoration programs and EPA Bay staffing.
It’s a proposal few expect Congress to go along with. Lawmakers largely ignored the administration last year when it called for slashing the EPA by 31 percent in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Instead, the House and Senate approved much smaller cuts. And rather than eliminating Bay funding, the House has approved $60 million and the Senate is backing $73 million — the difference is to be worked out by March 23, the latest deadline for Congress to approve spending levels for each federal agency and department.
Environmental groups blasted the administration for proposing steep cuts yet again.
“A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.
Calling EPA’s Bay Program “the glue that holds the state/federal partnership together,” Baker said his organization would work with Congress to restore funding.
Chanté Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a network of conservation groups, noted that last year at least $48 million of the Bay Program funding went directly to the six watershed states and the District of Columbia on projects to improve drinking water, restore oyster populations, reduce pollution from farmland, and create habitat for species such as striped bass and blue crabs.
“We look forward to working with our Chesapeake delegation in Congress to move the decimal point over to its rightful place and restore Bay funding to $73 million,” Coleman said.
And Lisa Alexander, executive director of the Maryland-based Audubon Naturalist Society, said she was appalled by the proposed cuts. “We’re going to keep fighting for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is an economic driver for this region, as are so many of the other programs that are affected by this poorly imagined budget,” she said.
At a Senate hearing Jan. 30, even EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sounded as though he was putting distance between himself and the White House when it came to withdrawing federal financial support for the Bay restoration.
Under questioning from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, who asked for Pruitt’s help to secure Chesapeake funding, Pruitt replied that “sometimes I’m not as persuasive as I endeavor” on budget decisions.
But Pruitt added that the Bay Program “is important. I believe there has been tremendous success achieved in the program. I really appreciate Congress’ response during the budgeting progress.”