The Environmental Protection Agency has reversed a decision to cut federal grant funding for the Bay Journal after an outcry from advocates who said it raised questions about the Trump administration’s commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration.
The agency cut funding for the 27-year-old publication last year, midway through a six-year grant. The Bay Journal, which receives about one-third of its funding from the EPA, appealed the decision and filed a lawsuit to press the agency to disclose records explaining its decision.
The reversal comes about a month after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he didn’t learn of the decision until after it was made. He said it was “probably a decision that should not have been made in the way that it was.”
The newspaper tracks developments in the health of the Chesapeake and efforts to reduce pollution. Its staff had said they expected to receive $325,000 from the agency Feb. 1, and slightly less than that each year through 2021.
“We are pleased that the EPA has recognized the contribution the Bay Journal has made for more than 27 years in informing the public about the Chesapeake Bay,” the Bay Journal’s editor, Karl Blankenship, said in a statement.
“The outpouring of support we have received over the last six months from across the political spectrum speaks to the credibility of our work,” he said. “We look forward to being able to return our full attention to doing just that — covering the issues that affect the Chesapeake and its resources.”
Pruitt was questioned about the funding reduction by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, at the committee hearing in late January.
Cardin said last week that the reversal would “return a measure of momentum” to the Bay Journal’s “unique, highly trusted” coverage. Van Hollen said it represented a retreat from “a misguided decision to revoke funding for an institution that has helped contribute to the health and success of the Chesapeake Bay.”
The EPA confirmed the decision to restore the funding but did not comment further.
During his confirmation hearing last year, Pruitt promised to support sustaining funding for the Chesapeake Bay program. But in President Donald J. Trump’s first proposed budget, the administration called for shifting all financial responsibility for the program to the states in the bay’s watershed. In its most recent budget, the administration has proposed slashing bay funding by 90 percent.
Congress will ultimately decide how much money is spent on the program.