The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort stands to get $60 million in federal funds next year under a bill acted on this week by a U.S. House subcommittee. That’s a significant cut from this year’s spending level, but a clear rejection of President Donald Trump’s proposal to completely de-fund the cleanup.
The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee included that amount for the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal-state Bay Program in a bill it reported Wednesday, according to Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-MD, a member of the full committee. Of that total, $10 million would be allocated to grant programs to be spent for on-the-ground restoration projects in the six-state watershed.
The precise allocations for EPA’s Bay Program were not spelled out in the bill the subcommittee released on Wednesday, but were included in a separate report, which has yet to be made public. But Ruppersberger said he and two other full committee members who also represent Bay watershed states pressed the subcommittee to provide the funding. He credited Rep. Scott Taylor, R-VA, and Rep. Andy Harris, R-MD.
"We worked really hard to get it from zero to $60 million," Ruppersberger said in an interview Friday. He said the Bay restoration is a bipartisan issue, at least among House and Senate members representing watershed states.
Currently, under the fiscal year 2017 spending bill approved by Congress, the Chesapeake Bay Program receives $73 million, with $12 million allocated to grant programs. Trump, however, had proposed eliminating federal funding for all of EPA’s geographically focused cleanup efforts, including the Bay Program.
The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled on Tuesday to take up the Interior and Environment subcommittee bill. Ruppersberger said he would like to see the fiscal 2018 Bay Program funding restored to its current $73 million level, but said he doubts the committee will go for that.
"I probably won't get much more," the Maryland Democrat said. "Hopefully, the Senate will bump that up."
Although lower than this year’s Bay funding level, the $60 million approved by the subcommittee is the same level approved by the House last year. In recent years, the House has generally approved lower levels of funding for the Bay Program than what’s been approved by the Senate — and ultimately enacted. The Senate has not yet taken up Bay Program funding.
Environmentalists said they would push for restoring the current year's funding level as the bill moves through Congress..
“Without full funding for the Program, the progress we have made to improve our waterways will be jeopardized and possibly reversed,” said Chante Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition.
William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called level funding "critical," adding that "there is clear scientific consensus that the health of the bay is improving."
Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship contributed to this story.