Environmental groups hailed President Joe Biden’s proposal to fully fund the Chesapeake Bay Program, saying that if the fiscal 2022 budget is approved it would help meet clean-up goals by a deadline now only four years away.
The budget request released Friday would boost funding for the Annapolis-based Bay Program to $90.5 million, a $3 million increase over current funding. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, the program coordinates a decades-old partnership between the federal government, the six-bay states and the District of Columbia aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised Biden’s budget proposal and a statement included in the budget that the program will emphasize implementing the 2025 pollution reduction requirements.
“After four years of fighting for the very existence of the Chesapeake Bay Program, CBF is pleased the Biden administration appreciates the importance of fully funding it,” foundation Federal Executive Denise Stranko said in a statement released Friday.
States in the bay watershed are supposed to have measures in place by 2025 that will get them to pollution reduction goals — the total daily maximum load, or TMDL — under targets set by the EPA in 2010.
“With only four years left to hit the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint’s pollution-reduction targets, we are happy to see the Bay Program fully funded to lead the multijurisdictional effort to save the Bay and its waterways,” Stranko said.
Joel Dunn, president of the Chesapeake Bay Conservancy, praised money included in the budget for land preservation. The budget would fund federal programs including the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office.
“This budget provides substantial funding for federal conservation programs. Following the Great American Outdoors Act, the budget provides record high-level funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, our nation’s most important land conservation program which has supported projects in every county across the country and many places in the Chesapeake Bay watershed such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and George Washington and Jefferson National Forests,” he said in a statement released by his office.
The EPA under former President Donald Trump cut funding for the program to $87.5 million. Last fall, Congress set the fiscal 2022 funding level at $90.5 million.
The Biden administration has yet to name a new director of the program following the departure this spring of Dana Aunkst, director since December 2018. Michelle Price-Fay, who heads the clean water branch of the EPA Mid-Atlantic Region, is serving as interim director.
The funding proposal follows a commitment in February by EPA secretary Michael S. Regan during his confirmation hearing to add new support for the program.
That reverses the stance under the Trump administration, which stepped back from its commitments. Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Anne Arundel County currently are suing the EPA over its decision not to hold Pennsylvania and other states accountable to meet the goals included within the 2025 cleanup plan.
And it comes on the heels of a letter this month by Gov. Larry Hogan and governors of the five other states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the mayor of Washington D.C. asking Congress to set aside $1 billion to help pay for a final push to meet a 2025 pollution reduction goal.
The “Billion for the Bay Initiative” would jump-start Bay restoration and put people to work building clean water infrastructure to reduce pollution from stormwater and farm runoff, the group said in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The governors’ letter said that every million dollars invested in clean water infrastructure can create more than 16 jobs, so that the Billion for the Bay Initiative would generate tens of thousands of new jobs.
It was matched with a letter from U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with fellow Chesapeake Bay state senators, urging Biden to provide robust funding for Chesapeake Bay programs in his budget proposal.
Biden’s proposed $6 trillion overall spending plan provides details of his plans to dramatically increase federal spending and is considered an opening gambit in negotiations with a divided Congress.
Dave Rees, a reporter for the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, contributed to this story.