EDITORIAL: Keep bay cleanup on track

York Dispatch
  • The Trump administration is seeking to cut federal funding from the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
  • The proposal would effectively cripple the organization.
  • Pollution-reduction efforts have so far been successful. Cutting funding now could halt success.

The only thing worse than a bad idea is a bad idea that comes at a bad time.

John Whitcomb, 15, and Abby Hebenton, 17, of Fairfild High School, paddle their way to the championship trophy by winning the 2nd Annual Chesapeake Bay Foundation PA Student Leadership Council Canoe Classic, Saturday, May 27, 2017, on the Susquehanna River at Long Level. John A. Pavoncello photo

Unfortunately, that is a more than apt description of the Trump administration’s plan to cut federal funding for continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. All of it. All $73 million.

The proposal would cripple the Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates cleanup efforts among six states — including Pennsylvania — and Washington, D.C.

And it comes at a time when the commission and bay advocates are cheering real success after decades of fits and starts.

Only a generation ago, the nation’s largest estuary — home to clams, oysters and crabs — was not only polluted but dying. Runoff from farms and other agricultural lands throughout the bay’s watershed, not to mention direct dumping of sewage and waste, and other factors, had taken their toll. So-called dead zones — areas where runoff-generated nitrogen and phosphorus block sunlight and decimate fish and crab populations — were expanding throughout the bay.

President Ronald Reagan made restoring the health of the bay a signature initiative in his 1984 State of the Union address. Still, cleanup efforts long failed to gain traction.

Chesapeake Bay boosters sound alarm over funding cuts

But a plan put in place in 2010 by Pennsylvania and other watershed states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, along with D.C. — provided the impetus for action, and, thus far, success.

Aggressive pollution-reduction efforts have diminished runoff to the point where, last summer, scientists recorded no dead zones in the bay, according to NPR. Signature Maryland blue crabs are on the rise, spawning sturgeon have returned to the bay — even dolphin sightings are no longer a rarity.

Though welcome, these gains are also fragile. Pulling the plug on funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program could spell a dark chapter in this fledgling success story.

As Pennsylvania Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission Marel King told the Dispatch, with measurable progress finally at hand, the bay cannot afford a year — let alone several years — without federal assistance.

That means congressional budget writers, state lawmakers and watershed leaders must combine advocacy with action:

  • Federal lawmakers from all six states must speak with one voice in insisting Chesapeake Bay funding is restored to the still-in-the-works federal spending plan.
  • Governors from the six states – a powerful bipartisan coalition that includes Democrats Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland – must use their pulpits to preach the need for continued federal assistance.
  • Scientists and other advocates must continue to spread the word – to the public and, especially, congressional lawmakers who will vote on the budget – of the economic and environmental returns being delivered by investment in the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Cleaning up the massive Chesapeake Bay is exactly the kind of initiative that requires and deserves federal assistance. Congressional representatives, stakeholders and state leaders must combine forces to make sure that assistance does not disappear.