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How Pending Federal Appropriations Might Affect Chesapeake Bay Watershed

As our federal government approaches Friday’s deadline to avoid a government shutdown, we wanted to check-in on how pending federal appropriations proposals will affect the Susquehanna River Basin and larger Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania.

The health of the Susquehanna River basin and the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania is something that PennFuture works hard to protect and fight for every day through policy, litigation, communications, and outreach. For the past several years, PennFuture has led the fight for listing the lower Susquehanna River as impaired after the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission found signs of sick aquatic life, advocating for increased conservation dollars for farmers, and cutting back on the overuse of fertilizer. Not only does PennFuture lead the Commonwealth’s clean water advocacy efforts at the state level, but our constant presence and relationships forged with our federal legislative offices have forced the slow-down of regulatory roll-backs and the draconian gutting of critical funding for the Susquehanna River basin.

Earlier this year, the White House released its 2018 federal budget proposal, which included massive cuts to investment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Alarmingly, President Trump’s proposal slashed the EPA’s annual Chesapeake Bay Program budget from $73 million to $0. If the proposed budget had been enacted, it would have been impossible for Pennsylvania to meet its pollution reduction obligations required by the U.S. Clean Water Act to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and restore local streams in the Susquehanna River basin.

Chesapeake Bay Program funding for restoration comprises nearly 55 percent of its total budget. Under President Trump’s proposal, Pennsylvania would have lost nearly $12 million in aid through Chesapeake Bay Implementation grants and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Stewardship grants. If the Bay Program’s almost $41 million of on-the-ground grant funding disappeared, the state of Pennsylvania would be left without the resources necessary to guarantee clean water to local communities and businesses. At a time when there is broad-based support to work on pollution reduction compliance goals, this funding is crucial to support a wide range of watershed efforts, including agricultural best management practices for farmers, green infrastructure and stormwater management for municipalities, and protecting riparian buffers along streams.

Despite 63 percent of Americans having a favorable view of the EPA, under President Trump’s proposal, the EPA’s budget would take the hardest hit of any agency. Its 31 percent budget cut would eliminate more than 3,000 staff and discontinue a number of programs critical to the survival of America’s wildlife.

Without full funding, Pennsylvania’s waters are put in jeopardy by nutrient pollution, erosion, sediment, and run-off. A healthy and robust Chesapeake Bay Program budget is an integral part of Pennsylvania’s effort to ensure clean water for its citizens and the Susquehanna River basin.

Fortunately, we can tell a different story. 

Through the spring, summer, and fall, PennFuture has been actively working with congressional offices across the state and in Washington to reinstall the EPA funding for the Chesapeake and Susquehanna. We learned in October that the House Interior Appropriations bill has approved returning $60 million to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, and just before Thanksgiving, we heard that the newly passed Senate Interior Appropriations bill has included $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program, with $6 million for each grant program ($12 million in total).

PennFuture extends deep thanks to our champions for Chesapeake funding in the House of Representatives for their work in seeing the Bay Program’s budget secured and renewed – namely, Congressman Glenn Thompson, Congressman Charlie Dent, Congressman Lloyd Smucker, and Congressman Matt Cartwright. PennFuture thanks Senator Bob Casey, as well, for his continued support for Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake and Susquehanna funding.

Our pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed cannot be realized without continuing to make these clean water investments in our communities. We are asking our federal legislators and President Trump to support funding for programs that provide aid to Pennsylvania, local governments and communities, and farmers throughout our region. A strong EPA is essential for the restoration and stewardship of the Susquehanna River basin. We ask our members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to bring back full, dedicated funding for our clean water in upcoming appropriations legislation.

Anyone who spends time in the outdoors knows that Pennsylvania has abundant water resources. With more than 86,000 miles of streams, we’re second only to Alaska. Unfortunately, there is a water crisis in Pennsylvania, and a united voice of citizens is needed to press back and remind our federal legislators that funding for clean water is non-negotiable. Six million Americans rely on the Susquehanna River for their drinking water, but that has been put at risk. Elected officials have failed to protect the water we drink by failing to protect our waters and streams, and as a result, Pennsylvania ranks third in most reported drinking water violations.

We have a constitutional responsibility to protect Pennsylvania’s environment and that includes protecting and maintaining our rivers and streams.

We must support a responsible budget and EPA’s role in protecting the Susquehanna and the Bay. We must remind our Representative and Senators that we oppose President Trump’s plan to slash the Chesapeake Bay Program budget and support the recent Senate bill to fully restore the $73 million for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.

Pennsylvania’s clean water depends on it.

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