CAPITOL HILL – An annual gathering of clean water advocates took on more urgency this year in the wake of President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, which proposes deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminates entirely federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.
The Choose Clean Water Coalition held a reception April 5 to bring together representatives from its 225 member organizations and elected representatives in Congress to discuss the negative impacts of Trump’s proposal to eliminate $73 million in funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which funds local restoration efforts in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Pennsylvania. In addition to a reception, the group facilitated 36 individual meetings between water groups and members of Congress.
“This gathering could not happen at a more important, critical moment given the budget that came down,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) “This is an hour, a moment of great need for this coalition and with your help, we will continue to make progress (on improving the Bay).”
Van Hollen and the other members of Congress stressed the bipartisan support the Chesapeake Bay Program has had over the years. Both Republicans and Democrats stopped by the luncheon to offer their support for the program.
“As a Republican, I can say this: every president’s budget is dead on arrival. I don’t think this will be an exception,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock (R- Va.-10).
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D) went even further, saying the budget was not only “dead on arrival,” but also should not even be used as a baseline.
“The Trump budget should not even be used as a yard stick. I’m worried that people will say, ‘We restored 50 percent of the funds, isn’t that good news?’ The answer is no, it’s not good news. Give us 25 percent more money, that would be good news,” Cardin said. “We can’t fall prey to the parameters that the president would like to have us operate under.”
Although the Bay can seem removed from Prince George’s County, water advocates here said Bay funding helps their organizations as well. Jim Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, explained, “We get a little bit of funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for projects that we’re doing in the Anacostia. And it’s really catalyst for other funding for other work that we’re doing.”
Laura Cattell Noll, an assistant program manager at the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an Accokeek-based environmental education foundation focused on the Potomac watershed, said the group’s trash-free Potomac watershed initiative also benefits from the Chesapeake funds.
“Funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program helps to support storm water and stewardship initiatives that prevent runoff that washes that trash into our water,” she said.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.-2) said the whole state benefits economically when the Bay is healthy.
“What people don’t realize, and I think we need to let the public know this, the Chesapeake Bay generates over $1 trillion, and that’s a lot of money that helps our states, our economy, our education systems, all the things we need to do,” he said.
He pledged to “fight harder and harder and harder” to restore the funding in the budget, a sentiment which Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.-8) shared.
“This proposal of slashing the Chesapeake Bay budget down to zero is a non-starter for us in Congress. It makes no sense at all,” Raskin said. “If a foreign power was to zero out our Chesapeake Bay budget, essentially ruin the Chesapeake Bay for us, we would consider that an act of aggression against the American people and the people of the mid-Atlantic region. So we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to accept it in any way.”
Maryland’s senators said they saw reasons to be hopeful when it comes to the budget.
“The good news on the budget is that, at least for the remainder of this year, we think we have the bipartisan support to prevent the acceleration of those cuts, which is what the proposal was, about $18 billion total from so-called non-defense fund, which would have hurt dramatically,” said Van Hollen, who serves on the Appropriations committee. “So hopefully we’ll be able to do okay in the remainder of this year and then really work with you going forward next year as part of the bipartisan, Chesapeake Bay state coalition to prevent those other, devastating cuts.”
Cardin said there were positive signs in his committee as well.
“There’s some interest in the Environment and Public Works Committee that I serve on as to whether there is something constructive that Republican leadership can do in regards to the Chesapeake Bay, which I find very encouraging,” he said. “So we’re going to take the chairman up on that and see whether we can’t find some way that we might be able to get some positive legislation. We’re tired of playing defense.”
Cardin stressed the importance of keeping Chesapeake Bay funding a bipartisan issue at the local level, to fight the influence of national groups who he said feel threatened by the success advocates in the mid-Atlantic region have had on Bay issues.
Raskin also said a strong, local coalition is important moving forward.
“I want to applaud you all for invoking the idea of a Chesapeake Bay delegation. If all of us organized ourselves according to watershed and region, the country would probably be a lot better off,” he said.