Senate Panel Rejects Trump Plan to Slash Chesapeake Bay Funding

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay

A Senate panel voted today to boost funding for federal Chesapeake Bay programs next year – a reversal from the Trump administration’s effort to slash the programs.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved $76 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program for 2020. The committee’s proposal is a bump-up over current spending levels and would be the first funding boost for the program in five years.

“This program is central to our efforts to maintain a healthy Bay and ultimately a healthy Maryland economy,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the subcommittee, said in a statement. “I’m pleased to have secured this investment, despite the President’s continued efforts to rob the program of its funding.”

House Democrats approved even higher funding for the program in their fiscal 2020 spending bill. The spending measure the House passed over the summer has $83 million for the Chesapeake Bay program. Van Hollen said he hopes the final funding level will be closer to that number, as House and Senate lawmakers hammer out funding deals later this year.

“I hope that as we move through the process, we can get to a higher number,” Van Hollen told the committee today.

The EPA oversees the Chesapeake Bay Program to coordinate science on restoration efforts and fund projects to reduce pollution in the bay. The program is key to the state-federal partnership to restore the Bay and gives grants to states for their programs.  EPA has $73 million for the program this year.

Funding for the program in 2020 has been in question. The Trump administration had proposed a 90 percent decrease for the program, reducing it to just $7 million in the White House’s budget proposal.

Conservation groups say the funding boost is needed to keep projects going and meet clean water goals.

“Annual increases like this are essential to meeting the 2025 deadline to restore the health of the Bay set by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint,” said Jason Rano, federal director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Chesapeake Bay Gateway program stuck in the mud

Van Hollen also pressed the committee to use the spending bill to extend the authorization for a separate program that supports outdoor recreation and educational programs on the Chesapeake Bay.

Lawmakers have regularly attached two-year reauthorization extensions for the Chesapeake Gateway Program as a part of the spending bill.

The noncontroversial program is due for another extension this year, but Republican leadership did not include it in the committee’s draft. They included authorizations that were a part of last year’s spending bill, but anything else was blocked as a “new” authorization.

“This is an authorization that we have historically extended in appropriations, it has been extended five times. My understanding is that if we had done it last year it would be extended,” Van Hollen told the committee. “This is nuts.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Interior and EPA spending panel, said she would try to work with him on it, but indicated there had been some objection from other Republicans.

“It is clear as mud, Senator,” Murkowski said – noting she was told that “extensions should be considered off the table.”

Established by Congress in 1998, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program supports outdoor recreations, exhibits, trail signs and youth programs in the bay. Under the program, the National Park Service has provided technical assistance for more than 150 new public access sites for the bay, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.

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