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Some members of the region's congressional delegation are leery of President Donald Trump's proposal to slash the Chesapeake Bay Program's funding by 90 percent, one component of the White House's $4.75 trillion draft budget. 

On Monday, March 11, the president unveiled a budgetary wish list for Congress that  included a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency as well the 90 percent cut to the program meant to restore the polluted estuary and the rivers and streams that pour into it.

The six-state collaborative effort, which includes Pennsylvania, formed in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan and is in part funded by the EPA at $73 million annually. Trump has suggested similar spending cuts or the total elimination of funds to the program to no avail in his two previous proposed federal budgets.

"By cutting vital programs like the Chesapeake Bay Program, we threaten conservation efforts and damage our ability to preserve water quality in the region," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. "I have long supported efforts, like the Chesapeake Bay program, that ensure we are protecting the Earth for generations to come and will fight to make sure this reckless budget never becomes law.”  

More: Trump proposes eliminating Chesapeake Bay program

More: EPA: Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort is mostly on track

More: Report: Pa. improving, but behind clean water goals

Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, applauded Trump's general cost-cutting efforts but said he will continue to support efforts to restore the bay.

A spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he wouldn't comment on specific line items in the proposed budget.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, said that while good stewardship should be a goal, Pennsylvania residents already bear a heavy burden with the cleanup program. 

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has long opposed the EPA's efforts to limit nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, claiming it will harm businesses and farms. in 2011, unsuccessfully sued the EPA alongside the American Farm Bureau Federation for what it saw as an overreach of the federal government's regulatory power. Even so, farm bureau officials said they strongly support the Chesapeake Bay program and oppose efforts to slash its funding. 

In fact, the farm bureau is now actively engaged in coordinated cleanup efforts, its officials said. 

Pushing to maintain funding to improve water quality is vital, especially here in Pennsylvania where efforts to reduce pollution are already lagging, said Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Harry Campbell.

"(The proposed cuts) are simply insulting," Campbell said. "Clean water is critical to our health, economy and culture, particularly here in Pennsylvania. Why would anyone want to walk away from this successful, collaborative approach to restore our local rivers, streams and the bay? The return on investments is too great."

While progress has been made in bay restoration, the program is still far from its goal, according to a CBF report last year that grades progress mostly by pollution, habitat and fisheries.

The bay was ranked 33 out of its desired 70 points on the CBF Health Index — the equivalent of a D+, whereas a 70 would be ranked an A and would deem the bay "saved." The nonprofit hopes to achieve a score of 40 by 2025.

The score is a point lower than last year, which the CBF attributed to abnormal weather flushing large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and debris into the bay. Most of such pollution came from Pennsylvania, which has been subpar in its restoration efforts.

For example, by 2017 the state averaged a nitrogen pollution reduction of 18.7 million pounds annually — well short of the goal of 40.7 million pounds. York County is the second-highest contributor, behind Lancaster County, of nitrogen pollution in the state.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

This story was updated Tuesday, March 19, adding comments from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. 

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