Trump budget cuts all federal funding for Chesapeake Bay // Progress Index
PETERSBURG — President Donald J. Trump's elimination of federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program under a preliminary budget proposal released early Thursday "just makes no sense," Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said yesterday.
"If you eliminate the Bay Program, you slam the door on a recovery, and that's a recovery that is still very fragile," said Baker, who called the federal funding channeled to the Chesapeake Bay Program through the Environmental Protection Agency "nothing less than fundamental.
The EPA has been involved in Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts for almost 35 years, since the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed in 1983. The following year, then-President Ronald Reagan in his State of the Union Address asked for a major increase in EPA funding to "begin the long, necessary effort to clean up a productive recreational area and a special national resource — the Chesapeake Bay."
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama ramped up restoration efforts in an executive order calling for "a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources" in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Although six states and Washington, D.C., were designated as partners in that commitment, Obama's order tasked the federal government with leadership of the efforts.
However, since Trump assumed office in January, the EPA, and with it the Chesapeake Bay Program, have come increasingly under attack. Early reports on the administration's budget anticipated a 93 percent reduction in CBP funding from its current $73 million to $5 million.
The budget proposal released Thursday goes a step further, eliminating funding for the program entirely and "return(ing) the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities."
That move flies in the face of comments made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during Senate confirmation hearings Jan. 18 that if confirmed, he would support the federal government's role in the Chesapeake Bay Program, as well as federal funding of those programs that contribute to bay watershed improvement.
EPA "grant-making," Pruitt told U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at the time, "in general, is very important, and I will commit to you in that regard that I would do so with respect to the Chesapeake Bay."
In Virginia, the release of Trump's budget proposal axing bay funding sparked swift negative reactions.
Calling the administration's budget "more about keeping misguided political promises than creating opportunity for Americans or making them safer," Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared that the elimination of federal support for the CBP as well as other funding cuts to Virginia programs "will do significant harm to Virginia families and our economy."
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner,D-Va., cited the proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay as an example of the budget's "short-sighted choices that if implemented could actually harm our country's strength and long-term growth."
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., sought to paint Trump's priorities as confused, stating in a release, "Just weeks after President Trump promised us clean water and air in his joint address to Congress, he released a budget that completely eliminates the Chesapeake Bay Program and radically cuts funding for the agency that protects water resources like the James River and monitoring sea level rise in Hampton Roads."
U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-4th, called the elimination of CBP funding "unacceptable."
"These cuts endanger public health now and for future generations," he said in a statement. "The Chesapeake Bay is a source of jobs, transportation, income, food, and recreation for countless Virginians. We have finally made some gains with the Bay, but this budget will reverse our gains."
During the March 16 press call, Baker similarly anticipated widespread negative effects from the elimination of federal Bay Program funding.
"The Chesapeake Bay is essential to our livelihoods, our human health, our economy," he said. Because two-thirds of the program's funding goes directly to pollution reduction efforts, he predicted that the elimination of its federal funding would "inevitably" lead to a decline in commercial fisheries, drops in fish, oyster and crab populations and a related decrease in tourism as recreational and commercial opportunities constricted.
Although the economic impact of the Chesapeake Bay is difficult to calculate due to the number of factors and industries it involves, a 2014 analysis by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation valued the watershed's benefits at more than $107 billion annually.
In Virginia, the recent resurgence of the oyster industry has been perhaps the most visible of bay restoration efforts and has taken center stage in a state-level tourism effort to market Virginia's oyster regions as tourist destinations.
"We are starting to be so proud as a society that (the Bay) is being improved, that it is recovering," Baker said. "The idea that that should be stopped is hard to believe."
Both Baker and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Don Boesch, who also participated in the March 16 press call, expressed fears that with the disappearance of federal funding for restoration efforts, state funding would disappear as well, particularly given deep cuts to other federal sectors and uncertainties within the insurance industry over the future of the Affordable Care Act that may constrain state budgets.
Boesch characterized the Chesapeake Bay funding cuts as stemming from "some sort of false notion of federalism."
"The fact of the matter is the Clean Water Act, which we're all working under, is a federal law," he said.
Baker vowed that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will fight the administration's proposal over the coming months.
"Clean water is not a luxury," he said. "It's a right that no American should have to fight to achieve."