Last year around this time, I happily deleted this headline, "A Dark Day for the Bay," which I was preparing to use for a blog post in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal of the American Farm Bureau Federation and other plaintiffs in their challenge to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort known as the Bay TMDL. Ultimately, the Court denied that appeal, leaving in place the decision of a federal appeals court that upheld the Bay TMDL and solidified the Bay restoration effort at a critical time – the midpoint assessment period. I once again considered dusting off this ominous headline last fall when Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) successfully added a provision known as a "rider" to a budget bill, which would have blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing any "backstop actions" to ensure the TMDL remained on track.
Ultimately, that effort also failed as it faced the threat of a White House veto. In fact, the Goodlatte amendment provoked an overwhelming bipartisan backlash from senators and representatives from around the Chesapeake Bay watershed who sided with the Bay restoration effort over ideological attacks. But the enemies of the Chesapeake Bay know that there are many ways to skin a cat, or, in this case, gut the Bay TMDL. If you can't overturn it in court, or gut the accountability framework through budget gimmickry, you can always zero out funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which has been the centerpiece of the Bay restoration effort for decades. Some extreme elements within the White House are hoping the third time is a charm with the budget proposal released on March 16. And it is fair to label those behind this latest effort to defund the Bay Program as "extreme." Consider, for example, that some of the most conservative members of Congress publicly denounced the Goodlatte rider mentioned above. Also consider the reaction of a number of Republicans, who declared Trump's budget "dead on arrival" and vowed to restore some or all of the proposed cuts. The cuts included in yesterday's federal fiscal year 2018 budget plan would be every bit as devastating for the future of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as the previous efforts to overturn the Bay TMDL in court or statutorily prohibit EPA from instituting backstop actions to keep states moving forward in meeting their cleanup goals under the TMDL.
Eliminating EPA funding for the Chesapeake Bay would cut all support for Bay Program operations and scientific data management, as well as tens of millions of dollars for infrastructure development, water quality monitoring, pollution reduction efforts, and grants to assist states with implementation of the Bay TMDL. The public, clean water advocates, and lawmakers across the region and from both sides of the aisle were up in arms last week following reports that the Office of Management and Budget had proposed cutting Bay spending from $73 million to $5 million. Instead of backing off, the White House doubled down by proposing to eliminate federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. So, sadly, the headline I'd hoped to avoid is all too appropriate. It truly is "A Dark Day for the Bay."