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Senate passes $92 million in funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup program Trump has repeatedly tried to slash

The U.S. Senate passed a bill Wednesday that includes up to $92 million in annual funding through 2025 for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, a budget President Donald Trump’s administration has tried repeatedly to slash.

The broader environmental bill, officially called the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, or the ACE Act, still has to pass the House of Representatives. Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who co-sponsored the $92 million budget provision for the bay program, said the House could green-light the bill as soon as Thursday.

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He said he expects Republican President Donald Trump to sign it.

Trump’s previous proposed cuts drew criticism from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Van Hollen and other members of the Maryland congressional delegation, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among others. Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, released in February, included just $7.3 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program.

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The White House did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. It’s the largest estuary in the country and has incredible natural beauty. But it also has a huge economic impact on our state. The health of our bay determines the health of a lot of the Maryland economy,” Van Hollen said in an interview Thursday. “It is vital that we protect the health of the bay.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has said the bay program — a collaboration between federal, state, nonprofit, academic and local actors — has helped to boost the crab population and the resiliency of underwater grasses while reducing “dead zones” where organisms cannot survive. Funding is crucial to sustain the program’s progress, officials say.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s 2019 report card gave the bay a C-, or “moderate ecosystem health,” down from 2018′s C grade. It was the second year in a row the mark decreased. The Bay has “slightly improved” its health since 1986, the report card said.

Given that several states and the District of Columbia border the bay, Van Hollen said federal efforts are crucial to its preservation. Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation separately sued the EPA Sept. 10, alleging it failed to enforce bay cleanup targets in New York and Pennsylvania.

Van Hollen likened the efforts to walking up an escalator that is going down.

“Even when you’re taking steps to clean it up, it sometimes feels like you’re walking in place,” he said.

The act would give the program $90 million in funds in the 2021 fiscal year, ending next June, and increase that amount by $500,000 every year through the 2025 fiscal year.

The package also included other provisions to support Chesapeake Bay environmental efforts, including the Chesapeake WILD Act, which Van Hollen introduced. The provision is a new $15 million annual federal grant program through 2025 for states, nonprofits, local governments or other entities to advance habitat restoration.

“This bipartisan conservation bill contains important provisions to advance the Bay cleanup, protect valuable fish and wildlife habitat, and expand public access to the natural wonders of the Bay and its waterways,” said Jason Rano, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s federal executive director, in a statement to The Sun. “We urge the House to follow suit quickly so the watershed’s 18 million residents can benefit from the ACE Act’s many conservation and economic investments in the Bay region.”

The House has shown support for Chesapeake Bay-related components of the bill individually. In February, the House passed standalone bills to boost funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which also is included in the bill.

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