By: Timothy B. Wheeler, BayJournal.com
Undeterred by previous rebuffs by Congress, the Trump administration has once again proposed slashing funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration.
The budget released Monday by the White House would provide $7.3 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Chesapeake Bay Program in the 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That’s a 91% reduction from this year’s funding for the federal-state effort.
It’s the fourth time that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the Bay Program. In President Trump’s first year in office, he called for completely eliminating its federal funding. In the last two years, he has proposed a 90% reduction.
Congress rejected those proposals, and last year actually increased funding to $85 million for the fiscal year 2020, up from $73 million in recent years.
Given that history, it’s likely Congress will restore much if not all of the funding for the Bay Program, which coordinates regional efforts to restore the Chesapeake and provides grants to states, local governments, universities, and nonprofit organizations.
Even so, the administration’s proposal drew quick rebukes from environmentalists.
“This action continues President Trump’s assault on the Chesapeake Bay and clean water,” William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement. The Trump administration also is seeking to roll back or weaken many regulations aimed at protecting water quality, he added.
Baker noted that there are only five years left for all of the Bay watershed states to meet their cleanup obligations under the “pollution diet” that the EPA crafted in 2010. He warned that “this drastic cut could be the final nail in the coffin for science-based restoration efforts.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, pledged to work with other governors to restore Bay funding. “While the Trump administration continues to turn its back on the Bay, we will keep fighting to protect one of our most precious natural assets.”
He noted that the EPA Administrator stated at his confirmation hearing that he was committed to supporting the Bay Program. “Instead,” Hogan said, “the Trump administration recklessly and repeatedly proposes gutting Chesapeake Bay funding.”
As it has in previous years, the White House proposes to eliminate federal funding for most place-based ecosystem restoration efforts, including those focused on the Gulf of Mexico and the Long Island and Puget sounds. The budget summary suggests the work of these programs is best left to others. “State and local groups are engaged and capable of taking on the management of cleanup and restoration of these water bodies,” it says.
The White House spending plan would continue full funding for the Great Lakes restoration effort of $320 million. Likewise, it would renew the $3.2 million for restoration work in Florida’s Everglades and the Keys. It said the “limited” funding proposed for the Bay Program would support “critical basinwide monitoring and state and local capacity building.”
A White House budget summary says these restoration efforts, apparently in contrast with the others, require a “uniquely federal role” focused on continuous long-term monitoring of the watersheds, given the “current lack of capacity for non-Federal groups to take on this role.”
The proposed Bay Program cut is part of a larger, continuing effort by the Trump administration — also mostly rebuffed in past by Congress — to make sweeping reductions in federal spending on environmental programs and agencies. The EPA overall would get nearly $6.7 billion under the White House proposal, which is 26% less than the current funding level.
The U.S. Geological Survey is targeted for a 24% cut overall, but its ecosystems research efforts would be reduced by almost half.
Details of the administration’s funding proposal remain unknown for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which works on everything from fisheries management to climate research. The Commerce Department’s budget summary says NOAA’s spending remains under review. The White House budget summary, though, says “lower priority” NOAA grant and education efforts would be zeroed out, including coastal zone management and the Sea Grant program, which among other things funds coastal and Great Lakes research.
Elsewhere in the federal budget, funds for land acquisition at the Department of Interior and in the U.S. Forest Service would be slashed by more than 90%, from $227 million this year to $18 million in fiscal 2021. The budget document cites the need for those departments to focus on core missions like fighting fires and addressing a maintenance backlog on existing federal lands.