Trump proposal: Slash Puget Sound cleanup money by 93 percent
A draft Trump administration plan, proposing deep cuts in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would slash the EPA's budget for Puget Sound cleanup by an astounding 93 percent.
During the current fiscal year, the EPA will have spent $28 million on restoration and monitoring of the Sound. The money has been spread among local governments, Native American tribes and nonprofits.
The spending has been driven by a longtime bipartisan goal on putting Puget Sound at the same priority cleanup level as Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the the Great Lakes.
The Trump EPA proposal would cut that spending to $2 million.
It is part of an overall plan to cut programs and reduce EPA spending from $8.24 billion this fiscal year, to $6.16 in the next fiscal year. A newly released draft plan would also ax 17 percent from the current budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"On the heels of a speech in which President Trump committed to working for clean water and good jobs, this proposal would devastate efforts to restore shellfish beds, revitalize salmon runs and recover the Sound for future generations," said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., whose district includes Hood Canal and the Olympic Peninsula.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., from a south Sound district, stressed potential costs that would accrue from losing money and seeing programs eliminated.
"When the federal government fails to invest in the health of critically important bodies of water like our Puget Sound, environmental problems become environmental disasters," Heck said.
Two veteran Washington Republican legislators, who co-chaired Trump's campaign in Washington, hold top posts in the Trump transition team at the EPA.
Ex-State Sen. Don Benton is "senior White House adviser." State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is temporarily in charge of communications. Ericksen is rumored as future director of the EPA's Region 10. He will hold a town meeting Saturday at 10 a.m. in Meridian High School north of Bellingham,.
The Puget Sound cleanup is not alone in Trump administration targeting.
Both Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes cleanup efforts would suffer 90 percent reductions in their funding. Cleanup money for Long Island Sound and San Francisco Bay would be eliminated entirely.
The best known restoration effort in Western Washington has been in the Nisqually River Delta, near Olympia, where salt water wetlands have been restored. The project was celebrated in the George W. Bush administration as then-U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton visited the refuge.
The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was, last year, renamed for the late Native American fisheries advocate Billy Frank, Jr.
Ultimately, the decision on funding for the EPA, and for Puget Sound, will rest with Congress.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., argued on Saturday that the Puget Sound cleanup can be defended purely on economic grounds.
"From struggling salmon fisheries, declining Orca populations, and massive shellfish dieoffs from ocean acidification -- slashing Puget Sound recovery funding shows a blatant disregard for our environment," said Cantwell. "A failure to confront the environmental challenge the Sound faces will have disastrous consequences for our economy."
To press the case, Kilmer and Heck have founded a Puget Sound Recovery Caucus.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Kilmer sit on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, but as minority Democratic members. Longtime (1976-2012) Rep. Norm Dicks, an Appropriations member for 36 years, championed money for the Sound.
Two Republican members of Congress from Washington hold seats on the House Appropriations Committee.
They are U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who represents Southwest Washington, and Rep. Dan Newhouse from Central Washington.
Newhouse served as State Agriculture Director under Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. He has, however, been an EPA critic. Herrera Beutler is the lowest profile member of Washington's delegation, and a protégé of House Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
The loyalties of Newhouse and Herrera Beutler, whether to Donald Trump or to their home state, will be tested.
As Heck put it late Friday, "It is in our nation's best interest to continue an adequate level of funding for Puget Sound restoration. The return on investment is strong and the price of doing nothing is costly beyond our imagination."