Trump budget may threaten bay cleanup efforts
Proposal draws criticism from environmental groups, legislators
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
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