Huge cuts targeting EPA programs under the Trump administration would hit a Chesapeake Bay restoration plan among the hardest, with funding plunging to $5 million from $73 million, according to a group that obtained a federal budget proposal.
That's a proposed 93 percent cut in the cleanup plan with deep ties to Pennsylvania. But it's also very early in the process for budgeting. An EPA spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
S. William Becker, executive director of the non-partisan nonprofit National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), which obtained the budget proposal document, labeled the call for cuts, "punishing" with "horrific consequences."
"They are playing fire with public health and environmental welfare," Becker said.
Becker's said the budget proposal was under a U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "passback" document for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1. It calls for almost a quarter of the EPA's budget to be slashed. The Washington Post obtained the same document that spells out both EPA staff cuts and the reduction to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup project.
The "passback" document details funding levels for EPA’s programs, including the drop in funding from Obama-era levels to the Chesapeake Bay plan. Funding would drop from $72,861 to about $5 million. The NACAA says such a cut would nearly kill the program. However, the document is just a starting point for budgeting and could change.
The bay has had a long history of pollution. In 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program regional partnership was created to clean it up.
In 2009, the Obama administration launched a renewed effort to restore the widely used waterway - where crab and oyster populations had plunged - by 2025. But the effort was also criticized for the large amount of funding it was drawing from federal sources.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt joined a court filing in 2014 when he was Oklahoma Attorney General to stop the Obama effort. He was one of Attorneys General in 21 states who signed the court brief. The Attorneys General opposed the plan along with the American Farm Bureau in belief it was federal government overreach that could spread elsewhere.
The Susquehanna River, which runs the length of Pennsylvania, drains into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and is a key source of its pollution.
Pennsylvania has long been considered a key piece in helping cleanup the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and is one of six states contributing to its rehabilitation.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which assists the state in cleanup efforts, has a Harrisburg office and notes on its website that the Susquehanna is not only the largest source of fresh water to the Chesapeake, but also its biggest source of nitrogen. The Susquehanna picks up the nitrogen from agricultural and suburban runoff and drains in the Chesapeake.
“Reducing funding for the successful Chesapeake Bay clean-up, begun by Ronald Reagan, seems inconsistent with the President’s remarks about clean water," the foundation said in a statement released Thursday. “The proposed reduction in federal investment in Chesapeake Bay would reverse restoration successes. The EPA role in the cleanup of the Chesapeake is nothing less than fundamental. It’s not just important, it’s critical."
The Oregonian has posted a spreadsheet detailing a partial list of other proposed EPA program cuts. You can see it here.