Trump budget again targets regional water cleanup programs

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — For a second consecutive year, President Donald Trump is trying to drastically reduce or eliminate federal support of cleanups for iconic U.S. waterways including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Trump's proposed 2019 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency released Monday would cut funding by 90 percent for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — an Obama-era plan for dealing with pervasive pollution in the world's biggest surface freshwater system — and a similar program for Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary.

It would remove all EPA funding of cleanup programs for the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and South Florida, including the Everglades and Keys. The administration's EPA spending plan said the agency would "encourage state, tribal and local entities to continue to make progress" in those places.

The administration sought to zero out spending on the regional water initiatives in its first budget a year ago, describing them as "primarily local efforts" and contending state and local governments were capable of paying for them.

But Congress decided otherwise, illustrating the popularity of the cleanups among lawmakers of both parties and voters who want progress on long-standing problems such as toxic algae that fouls beaches, invasive species that starve out native fish, and industrial toxins embedded in river bottoms.

The Great Lakes program is the largest, taking in about $300 million annually since it was established in 2010. Trump's budget would give it $30 million. Chesapeake Bay, which is getting nearly $73 million this year, would receive $7.3 million. The other programs receive significantly less federal funding.

Supporters pledged another fight to keep them intact.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, denounced the proposed Great Lakes cuts as "outrageous." Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican, pledged to seek full funding of the initiative, which he said boosts the economy and environment of an eight-state region extending from New York to Minnesota.

"Why the Trump administration would continue to try to slash funding for the world's most important freshwater resource is beyond my comprehension," said Mike Shriberg, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation.

The Chesapeake Bay program, which dates to 1983, has accelerated in recent years in the watershed's six states and Washington, D.C., with adoption of pollution reduction targets. Trump's budget would provide money for water quality monitoring but none for cleanup work, advocates said.

"A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress," said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined comment.

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Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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