Reports surfaced earlier this month that the White House would propose slashing federal funding to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup project by about 93 percent, but it turns out that was an underestimate.

President Donald Trump's budget proposal — which includes a $52.3 billion increase in defense spending — calls for cutting the Environmental Protection Agency's funding by more than 30 percent, including the complete elimination of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The EPA currently provides about $73 million annually to the project, which encompasses efforts of six states — including Pennsylvania — and Washington, D.C., for coordinating science, research and modeling to cleanup efforts, in addition to grants to state and local governments for reducing pollution.

The agreement between the states was first put into place in 1983 under Ronald Reagan, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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Harry Campbell, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Pennsylvania, said he was shocked when he learned about the proposal for a complete elimination of the program.

"This program has been a model of state and federal cooperation," he said. "It's working to provide real and tangible returns for cleaner water."

The foundation's most recent report found that the health of the bay is steadily improving, though Pennsylvania is lagging behind other watershed states in its pollution reduction goals.

The EPA set pollution standards for each state that are supposed to be 60 percent complete by the end of 2017 and 100 percent complete by the end of 2025.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has already acknowledged that Pennsylvania likely won't meet its 2017 milestones.

Per the agreement, the EPA is allowed to penalize any state that does not meet its goals. In the past, the EPA has withheld funding to Pennsylvania as punishment for not meeting its goals.

Future: The agreement would still be in place without federal funding, but Campbell admitted that it would be hard to withhold funding with no money coming to the states. He suggested the EPA could impose other consequences, including withholding permits.

Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts also are aided through state and private funds, but Campbell said those sources would be severely hindered without federal funding.

Campbell compared the program to a three-legged stool, with federal, state and private support constituting one leg each,

"If you cut one leg off, it potentially falls down," he said.

William Baker, the foundation's president, said in a statement that if Trump's budget were implemented, the bay could "revert to a national disgrace with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shell fish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health."

Campbell said it's hard to underestimate the negative impact the proposed cuts could have on the nation's economy, quality of life and public welfare.

An economic analysis by the foundation has suggested that Pennsylvania could see $6.2 billion in annual benefits from fully implementing its clean water blueprint.

Campbell said the foundation is still optimistic, noting that presidential budget proposals never make it through Congress without changes.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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