Trump bud­get may threaten bay cleanup ef­forts

Pro­posal draws crit­i­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, leg­is­la­tors

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2018 fis­cal year bud­get re­leased last week rec­om­mended elim­i­nat­ing fund­ing for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, a re­gional part­ner­ship that works across state lines to re­store the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed.

The pro­posed bud­get cuts mostly drew crit­i­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and many leg­is­la­tors.

“This just makes no sense,” said Will Baker, pres­i­dent of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion, in a press call. “We are

in dis­be­lief.”

Un­der Trump’s bud­get pro­posal, $73 mil­lion in fund­ing for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram through the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency would be slashed.

Two-thirds of the $73 mil­lion goes to pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion ef­forts for states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the form of grants, ac­cord­ing to Baker. The re­main­ing third funds are ded­i­cated to mon­i­tor­ing pro­grams to mea­sure the ef­fi­ciency of cleanup ef­forts.

The state of Mary­land gets about $7.6 mil­lion from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram that are dis­trib­uted mostly through the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Mary­land Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment for cleanup ef­forts, Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) said.

Waugh said he does not sup­port cut­ting fund­ing for the pro­gram be­cause the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay restora­tion is where EPA should be lead­ing the ef­forts when in­ter­state wa­ter­ways are in­volved.

Trump’s bud­get pro­posal sug­gests fund­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to be re­turned to state and lo­cal en­ti­ties to al­low EPA to “fo­cus on its high­est na­tional pri­or­i­ties.”

Crit­ics say it is im­prac­ti­cal to ask the states to step up and make up the dif­fer­ence as states face bud­get pres­sure of other fed­eral fund­ing cuts and the un­cer­tain­ties of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

If the fed­eral funds go away, the no­tion of state gov­ern­ments’ dou­bling or tripling their in­vest­ments is “just naive” given what the states are deal­ing with re­gard­ing their own bud­gets, said Don­ald Boesch, pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Science, in a press call.

Be­cause a lot of state fund­ing for restora­tion projects are match­ing funds, Boesch is con­cerned that state fund­ing would not in­crease, but would in­stead dis­ap­pear if fed­eral dol­lars were elim­i­nated.

Call­ing EPA’s role in clean­ing up the bay “fun­da­men­tal,” Baker said ze­ro­ing out fund­ing for the part­ner­ship equates slam­ming the door on a “very frag­ile re­cover y.”

Sev­eral re­ports have shown that the bay’s health is im­prov­ing, and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates and some leg­is­la­tors say the pro­posed bud­get cut could erase decades of bay restora­tion ef­forts and turn the progress back­ward.

“This would be a ter­ri­ble set­back,” Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s) said, adding he was “shocked and dis­ap­pointed” at the pro­posed elim­i­na­tion of fund­ing for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram.

“We can­not go back­ward on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and we won’t,” Miller said. “It’s taken too long, and we work too hard to make this progress.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (DMd.) echoed Miller’s sen­ti­ment. “Congress must quickly re­ject the pres­i­dent’s bud­get be­fore the ab­sur­dity of his pro­posed cuts ... causes rip­ples of un­cer­tainty and fear across the en­tire Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed econ­omy,” Cardin said in a state­ment.

“The pres­i­dent needs to un­der­stand that a healthy bay means a healthy econ­omy, and this can­not be ac­com­plished with­out a strong fed­eral part­ner,” he said. “Less pol­lu­tion means more oys­ters and crabs, health­ier farm­land, more boats and tourism on the wa­ter and more jobs.”

The neg­a­tive im­pact of pro­posed deep cuts to the part­ner­ship could lead to se­ri­ous health is­sues posed by de­te­ri­o­rat­ing wa­ter qual­ity, un­healthy fish and shell­fish and wa­ter­borne dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates. And that im­pact ex­tends to the fish­ery in­dus­try, tourism and recre­ation.

“It’s a dis­as­ter for the bay and peo­ple ei­ther re­ly­ing on the bay for jobs, recre­ation or plea­sure,” said Joe An­der­son, pres­i­dent of the St. Mary’s River Wa­ter­shed As­so­ci­a­tion.

If cleanup ef­forts are stalled due to a lack of fund­ing, “the wa­ter is gonna get dirt­ier, dirt­ier and dirt­ier,” An­der­son said. “You will not be able to swim, … you will be liv­ing on an open sewer.”

Many noted that the pres­i­dent’s bud­get pro­posal shows his pri­or­i­ties, but Congress has the fi­nal say on the fed­eral bud­get.

“Pres­i­den­tial bud­gets haven’t been ap­proved in decades,” Waugh said. “I’m not too wor­ried about it.”

Call­ing the sug­gested bud­get cuts to the bay pro­gram “an in­sult” to those who have worked to save the bay, Baker said the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion “will fight with ev­ery fiber in our bod­ies to see that Congress re­jects this bud­get and main­tains a pro­gram that has achieved so much.”

Calvert Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent Evan Slaugh­en­houpt (R) said he’s in sup­port of the cuts.

“I sus­pect most of the fund­ing prob­a­bly goes to en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and not ac­tu­ally to clean­ing up the bay,” he said. “All they are do­ing are just lob­by­ing to make it more dif­fi­cult for prop­erty own­ers.”

In an email, Slaugh­en­houpt wrote: “We do not re­ceive funds di­rectly from the EPA that helps our ef­forts to clean the bay.”

Prop­erty own­ers, he wrote, “all pay a ‘flush tax’ to the state and then a por­tion gets re­turned to as­sist with ni­tro­gen re­mov­ing sep­tic sys­tems.”

He wrote that greater ef­forts should be placed on clean­ing the de­bris be­hind the Conowingo Dam, which “would im­prove wa­ter qual­ity and lessen the need for the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups to ex­ist.”

Sen. Steve Waugh

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