With the release of his full 2018 budget proposal, Donald Trump today made it clear he intends to keep his promise to make massive federal spending cuts next year. And despite plenty of pushback from Congress, the president still plans to do away with the $73 million set aside for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a 34-year-old bipartisan effort to clean up North America’s largest estuary.
The White House ignored suggestions from congressional Republicans and Democrats alike in “President Trump’s Taxpayer First Budget” by again proposing a 31 percent cut in spending on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That fiscal slashing entails eliminating the small slice set aside for the bay program — a minuscule 1.3 percent — out of the overall $5.7 billion that would go to the agency.
Maryland’s environmentalist advocates were among the first to respond.
“The Chesapeake Bay Program has strong bipartisan support because it is working. Female crab numbers are up, oysters are rebounding, and we have had record acreage of Bay grasses in each of the last four years,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation president William C. Baker in a statement. He warned: “If it is eliminated, there is the very real chance that the Bay will revert to a national disgrace with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health.”
Aminah Zaghab, a clean air advocate with Environment Maryland, laid out some of those human health concerns.
“President Trump’s budget would mean more days when it’s unsafe to breathe the air; more dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, sewage and other pollution in our rivers and streams, fewer protections for the Chesapeake Bay and other coastal areas, and more uncertainty for our climate,” she said in a statement.
The Trump administration’s insistence on gutting the bay program comes just as the waterway is finally starting to improve after decades of unchecked pollution. While there’s still plenty more work to do, crab populations are showing signs of growth (as Baker noted), underwater grasses are growing more abundantly and the annual “dead zone” for oxygen in the water has finally started to shrink in size and seasonal tenure.
The bay program isn’t the only target. Trump’s budget also suggests major cuts in funding for Medicare, food stamps, children’s health care and research at the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, among many other areas.
The White House says the overall budget plan would save $1.2 trillion over the next decade, assuming a rosy economic outlook of 3 percent economic growth each year. (The Congressional Budget Office projects a growth rate closer to 2 percent annually for the next 10 years.)
Maryland’s senior U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin expressed frustration about the spending plan in a statement, but also said it’ll go nowhere in Congress. “More than any other presidential budget in recent memory, this budget must be considered dead on arrival,” he said in a statement.
Cardin’s Republican colleague, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, used the same phrasing in saying the budget will go nowhere, and other GOP lawmakers expressed opposition to funding cuts for the State Department and a flood-protection plan for Louisiana, NBC reports.
Bay advocates are hoping they’re right, as Maryland needs those federal dollars to keep the program afloat. The June 10 “Floatilla” put on by the Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative serves as a fundraiser to bring in outside money to support the bay cleanup program. Given the looming threats from the White House, organizers have also planned a rally this year for locals to show their support for keeping that funding in place.