The Chesapeake Bay is in the cross hairs yet again, this time in the president’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget, which would slash about 90 percent of the federal funds used to clean up the polluted estuary.
On Monday, Donald Trump released a spending framework that would gut the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) from $72.5 million to $7.3 million. The program has worked for decades to help restore the bay, and recent studies show it’s growing healthier.
Trump tried last year to eliminate the program entirely, but bay cleanup enjoys bipartisan support in Washington, where Congress has been funding the program in full under a series of continuing resolutions.
Last week, Congress passed and Trump signed a two-year bipartisan budget deal, but it doesn’t include many funding specifics, including for the CBP.
Appropriations details for the rest of fiscal 2018 are to be hammered out over the next several weeks, while negotiations for 2019 are expected to begin later in the spring. Trump’s proposed budget is meant to show his spending priorities.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Westmoreland) said in a statement Tuesday that he’ll push his colleagues on appropriations committees to keep funding the program in full.
“The Chesapeake Bay is critical to the environmental and economic health of our region,” said Wittman. “Severely reducing funding for this program would be shortsighted and unacceptable.”
In December, Wittman joined with Hampton Roads congressmen Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Newport News), Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) and A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) to send a letter to Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney urging that the 2019 budget fully fund the CBP.
Taylor said in a statement Tuesday that he “will continue to oppose any cuts that would slow progress towards restoring” the bay. Taylor is the only Virginian on a congressional appropriations committee.
And Scott said Trump’s budget would “eviscerate” the CBP and “derail the entire (cleanup) timeline and increase pollution, which will only destabilize our regional and coastal economy.”
Warner slammed the president in a statement for again putting forth a budget that “slashes funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup,” while Kaine said he will “once again push back on this senseless cut and fight to make sure that Virginia has the resources it needs, regardless of where President Trump’s priorities lie.”
The CBP is funded under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose budget Trump would cut by nearly a quarter over 2018 levels, from around $8 billion to $6.1 billion.
According to the budget overview, those cuts reflect the EPA’s new strategic goal to “reduce costs and more effectively utilize limited resources,” largely by shifting more responsibility to states to pay for environmental and human health protections.
Conservation groups joined in protesting the reductions.
“This is yet another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it,” said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “This administration says they want to partner with states, but a 90 percent budget reduction says the opposite.”
And Rhea Suh, president of the D.C.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, called the EPA budget “nothing short of devastating for all Americans who value clean air, safe drinking water and protected public lands.”
Nearly two-thirds of CBP’s budget goes to fund state and local measures to reduce the stormwater and agricultural runoff and sediment that reaches the bay and harms marine ecosystems.
Without those funds, bay states and municipalities would need to cover cleanup costs totaling millions of dollars a year.
The watershed’s 64,000 square miles stretch over portions of six states and the District of Columbia.
Contact Dietrich at 757-247-7892 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at DP_Dietrich