Tallying Hogan's $3 billion investment in the Chesapeake Bay

The state Senate passed a resolution last week calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to publicly oppose President Donald Trump's proposal to eliminate a $73 million federal program to oversee the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

In a letter responding to the lawmakers, Hogan's secretaries of the Environment and Natural Resources reiterated previous statements noting that Trump's budget is only a proposal. If it ever becomes reality, Ben Grumbles and Mark Belton wrote, they "will continue fighting and advocating on behalf of all Marylanders."

They added that the governor has asked his cabinet secretaries to begin gathering information on the potential impact of the proposed cuts.

But a line in the letter raised some environmentalists' eyebrows: "In his first three years in office, Governor Hogan has increased funding for Chesapeake Bay Restoration efforts, investing more than $3 billion in State funds."

The total — actually about $3.02 billion — is 27 percent more than the $2.37 billion in state funds Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration spent on the same programs during its final three years, according to state budget documents.

The Hogan accounting includes tens of millions of dollars spent to protect rural and open land, to promote use of modern, cleaner septic systems, and to run programs in the state's Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources.

As O'Malley did, it also counts hundreds of millions of dollars spent to operate the state's transit system each year, even as Hogan has shifted spending away from projects such as the Red Line, a canceled light rail line that would have stretched across Baltimore, and toward road and bridge needs.

According to a chart shared by administration officials, the amount of transit spending has increased 94 percent over Hogan's tenure to a requested $446 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. That includes $155 million is for "green infrastructure" and stormwater management projects, such as planting of trees and native plants to reduce the amount of runoff that washes pollutants in the bay, said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the state Department of the Environment.

The rest goes toward "expenses that reduce transportation-related pollutants from entering the Bay," he said, such as park and ride lots, transit centers and the Purple Line, a transit system connecting Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The $3 billion figure also includes $66 million on environmental education and research programs at state schools and colleges, and $212 million on preservation of open and agricultural land.

The Hogan administration is stressing that in the face of potential federal cuts, it is increasing its investment in the environment. That investment still relies heavily on the federal Environmental Protection Agency's key program focused on bay cleanup, which Trump has proposed virtually eliminating.

Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Maryland executive director, questioned whether all of the $3 billion goes toward reducing pollution.

"Are these investments really resulting in cleaner water? That becomes a critical question now, in light of proposed drastic federal budget cuts," she said in an e-mail. "Our state investments may have to go even further than they used to."

sdance@baltsun.com

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