President Donald Trump has released his proposed budget for the coming year, and if it’s approved, Chesapeake Bay funding would be cut by 90 percent.Photo by Matt Rath/Chesapeake Bay Program
The Chesapeake Bay Program is currently funded at $73 million, but the Trump Administration’s fiscal 2020 budget proposes only $7.3 million in funding. This is the exact same reduction the White House proposed for fiscal year 2019. And for 2018, the administration wanted to eliminate Chesapeake Bay Program funding altogether.
Both times, Congress restored all or almost all funding.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership that directs and carries out efforts to restore the Bay. The group of federal and state agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and universities has been in place since 1983. The Bay Program also gives grants to state and local governments and other groups to reduce pollution.
Leaders at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) quickly condemned the proposed budget cut. In a statement, CBF President Will Baker said:
“This is a slap in the face to a national treasure finally beginning to recover from decades of pollution.
If the President’s budget were to be enacted it would devastate efforts to restore local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Baker argues that the Bay Program is “the glue that holds the state/federal partnership together,” and the program has been making strides. He points out that in the long run, pollution has declined, the oxygen-deficient “dead zone” is getting smaller, and Bay grasses are growing. Without continued funding, all that progress could be erased.
U.S. Representative Elaine Lura (D-VA 2nd District), who just took office this year, called on Congress to not only keep the Bay fully funded, but to ensure funding increases in the future.
“The administration’s budget ignores the fact that protecting the Chesapeake Bay has broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Congress must fight for the Bay, defend one of our greatest national treasures, & pass our Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act,” Rep. Lura said on Twitter.
The Chesapeake Bay Reauthorization Act, introduced in the House and Senate this year, would go beyond the current level of $73 million, instead providing $90 million in fiscal year 2020 and increasing the funding by $500,000 a year for five years.
According to the lawmakers leading the effort, “the vast majority of funding for the program would go directly toward states within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed – West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, as well as the District of Columbia – to help control pollution and manage runoff into the tributaries that feed into the Bay.”
The measure is sponsored by a Maryland Democrat and a West Virginia Republican (Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, the companion measure is sponsored by a Virginia Democrat (Luria), two Virginia Republicans (Rep. Bobby Scott (R-3rd District) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st District), and a Maryland Democrat (Rep. John Sarbanes (MD-3rd District).
Chesapeake Bay region lawmakers have gone across the aisle before to keep the Bay restoration efforts funded.
In a statement, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris (R-1st District) tells Bay Bulletin, “I support the current level of funding for the program, and will work on the Appropriations Committee to find ways to shift funds back into it.”
Senator Cardin boils it down like this: “States rely on the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program to provide federal accountability, enforceability, and resources. Less pollution means more oysters and crabs, healthier farmland, more boats and tourism on the water, and more jobs.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano