Study: EPA cuts could damage bay

Trump budget would eliminate contribution for restoration work

Environmental Protection Agency cuts in the budget proposed by the Trump administration would devastate the decades-long, ongoing effort to restore Chesapeake Bay to pristine condition, according to a study released Thursday by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.

The administration is proposing to eliminate the EPA’s entire $73 million annual contribution to the restoration work, which would eliminate the agency’s critical role in coordinating and tracking the cleanup, which involves six states, the District of Columbia, numerous jurisdictions and agencies at every government level and nonprofit groups, according to Kate Fritz, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

“They’re staggering numbers,” Fritz said Thursday of the potential funding losses — which are far from certain to occur, according to Kristin Reilly, spokeswoman for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

In Pennsylvania alone, the proposed cuts include $1.8 million in water pollution control grants, $1.2 million in drinking water protection and enforcement grants and — if non-point pollution control grants are eliminated — $4.7 million to deal with urban and farm runoff, according to a PennEnvironment news release.

Altogether, Pennsylvania received $12 million in fiscal 2016, Reilly said.

The threatened grant programs have supplied about $1 million to Blair County since the early 1990s — for remediation of acid mine drainage in Glen White Run above the Horseshoe Curve reservoirs of the Altoona Water Authority, control of nutrient runoff from farms and more recently for stormwater cleanup projects in keeping with increasingly strict federal and state regulations, said Donna Fisher, director of the Blair County Conservation District.

The bay cleanup is at a “tipping point,” with pollution measurements headed in the right direction and the states and the district midway along their paths to clean-up goals, Fritz said.

But the venture is “fragile” because of its jurisdictional and political complexity, so the prospect of cuts comes at an unfortunate time, Fritz said.

The EPA is the logical ringmaster for the cleanup effort, given that jurisdictional complexity, and it’s not clear what could replace it if its participation ends, according to Reilly.

The jurisdictional complexity is multiplied because the cleanup involves a variety of pollution sources — from specific points like sewer treatment plants and “non-point sources” like farms, stream banks and stormwater.

The EPA orchestrates its effort from an office in Annapolis, Md., along the bay, that could be dismantled under the proposed cuts, according to Reilly.

If the EPA effort drains away, the work of keeping the cleanup going would fall to the states, counties and municipalities, Fritz said.

The mandated cleanup requirements would remain, however, so the cost of compliance would fall onto those levels, Fisher said, speaking in particular about the stormwater issue.

At a recent meeting of representatives from stakeholder organizations there was “panic,” Reilly said.

Still, because the bay cleanup has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, she’s confident that lawmakers will roll them back.

The executive summary of the PennEnvironment study sounds less confident.

“The (EPA) has been essential to efforts to clean up (the bay),” it states. “That progress is not in jeopardy.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster’s office didn’t return a request for comment on the proposed cuts.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.