A nearly three-decade-old newspaper devoted to covering the Chesapeake Bay’s restoration is about to lose a major chunk of its revenue, thanks to an abrupt decision by Trump administration.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to cut off a multi-year grant for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, the publication’s managing editor Timothy Wheeler wrote yesterday. The newspaper is currently in year two of a six-year grant awarded by the agency in 2015, and was set to receive $325,000 – equal to about a third of the publication’s annual budget – in February 2018.
But that money isn’t in the pipeline anymore. Wheeler said the agency notified them officials had experienced a “shift in priorities” and decided to cut off the grant.
The EPA has been giving the Bay Journal annual grants of $327,000 from 2011 to 2014, according to agency records. In 2015, the most recent year for which public tax records are available, the publication received about half of its $795,000 of revenue from government grants, with the bulk of that share coming from federal money.
“We are disappointed that political appointees in the EPA have made an unprecedented decision to cut short a multi-year grant to the Bay Journal with no clear explanation,” said Chesapeake Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship in a statement.
The Bay Journal began in 1991 as a federally funded newsletter published by the nonprofit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. It’s covered bay cleanup efforts for the estuary touching six East Coast states since its inception and, despite receiving federal dollars, has maintained editorial independence from government influence, according to Wheeler.
In the last three decades or so, it’s grown into a regional environmental newspaper serving the Chesapeake states. It produces 10 print editions – all free – that it mails out to subscribers throughout the year, and now has a staff of 11 editors, reporters and photographers, as well as a marketing and advertising director.
Blankenship, editor since the beginning, took the paper independent from the Chesapeake Bay Alliance in 2010, forming the nonprofit Chesapeake Media Service to serve as its publisher.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation president William C. Baker condemned the planned funding cut, calling out EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for showing “his true anti-environmental colors.”
Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick for EPA head when he took office, was a controversial pick for the job. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the agency more than a dozen times for imposing stricter environmental rules on U.S. states. He’s also denied the validity of scientific evidence that says climate change is definitely happening, and backed the United States’ decision to leave the Paris Agreement earlier this year.
Baker also called on Gov. Larry Hogan to step up and ask Pruitt to reverse the EPA’s decision. The Republican governor has advocated for bay restoration programs during his three years in office and was recently named chairman of the multi-state Chesapeake Bay Executive Council.
Asked for a response, a spokeswoman for Hogan’s office wrote in an email, “the governor has consistently opposed cuts to federal funding for Bay restoration efforts.”
Despite the major hit in funding, the Bay Journal’s editors say they can stay afloat. “It’s not the end of the Bay Journal — not even close,” Wheeler wrote yesterday.
“We will be exploring next steps regarding the EPA funding, as well as other potential funding sources,” Blankenship said.
This story has been updated with comment from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.