President Donald Trump's budget proposal would eliminate federal funding for the program that coordinates Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, and environmental groups are warning the cut would threaten decades of progress.
Trump's spending plan for the 2018 budget year, released Thursday, significantly reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of those cuts, it eliminates money that goes to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
The program, formed in 1983, received $73 million in federal funds last year, most of which was doled out in grants to states, local governments and community groups for cleanup efforts in the nation's largest estuary. It also coordinates and monitors the efforts of the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia in meeting pollution reduction goals.
"If this program is eliminated, there's a very real chance that the bay will revert to a national disgrace" with poor water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish and waterborne diseases that threaten to human health, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said in a conference call with reporters.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed -- an economic driver that supports fishing, farming, shipping and tourism -- spans 64,000 square miles in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. After the EPA set bay pollution limits in 2010, the states and D.C. agreed to a "clean water blueprint," a set of plans for how to meet those limits by 2025.
"Since water does not respect state boundaries, restoring the Bay depends on each jurisdiction's funding levels and ability to implement the Blueprint," Kristen Davis, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in an email.
"If all federal support disappears, we should expect drastic changes in nearly all aspects of Bay restoration work," she wrote.
In the past, Chesapeake Bay Program grants have funded projects to restore oyster reefs, protect oyster beds, help reduce polluted runoff, support water quality monitoring and create habitat for animals.
Trump's plan says the cuts will return the responsibility for funding "local environmental efforts" to state and local entities, allowing the EPA "to focus on its highest national priorities."
Congress will have the final say on the budget, and the Chesapeake Bay Program has support from lawmakers in both parties. A bipartisan group of 17 members of bay states' congressional delegations sent a letter to Trump last month asking him to keep program funding at the same $73 million level.
Environmental groups including the Choose Clean Water Coalition, which has more than 200 members across the bay states, vowed to lobby lawmakers to restore funding for the program.
"At the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we will fight with every fiber in our bodies to see that Congress rejects this Bay budget and maintains a program that has achieved so much and is poised to save one of the world's greatest natural resources," Baker said.