For more than a quarter century, the Bay Journal has been a respected voice on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, funded in part through grants from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then last spring, the journal published stories about the Trump Administration’s proposed deep cuts to EPA and how they would damage the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. In response, a political appointee in the Trump Administration decided that EPA’s $325,000 annual payments to the Bay Journal would be abruptly terminated in the second year of a six-year contract.
The Trump appointee, John Konkus, said: “the American people have major concerns with newspapers and the media,” according to a report by Greenwire. And so Konkus, an EPA communications official who also works as a media consultant for Republican political campaigns, saw no reason for EPA to keep funding the Bay Journal.
In a Senate committee hearing, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, grilled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about what appeared to be a politically motivated attack on the freedom of the press.
“Public information about the bay is very, very important,” Cardin said. “And the leading source of that is the Bay Journal. As I understand it, a decision was made to cut off the funding.”
Pruitt replied: “It is under reconsideration, Senator, even in anticipation of this hearing. I learned about that decision after the fact. And I think it was probably a decision that should not have been made in the way that it was. So it is under reconsideration already.”
Following up on that statement, last week, Pruitt’s EPA announced that it is re-instating the grant to the Bay Journal.
“We’re really happy that this is behind us,” said Karl Blankenship, the editor of the Bay Journal. “Now we can get back to doing what we’ve been doing for more than a quarter century, which is focusing on reporting and writing about the Chesapeake Bay.”
The restoration of the journal’s funds, however, do not resolve the larger issue of the Trump Administration’s planned 90 percent cut to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, which provides scientific analyses and coordination state pollution control efforts. The White House recently proposed slashing the Bay Program from $73 million annually to $7.3 million.
Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen said he and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle should be able to derail the efforts to strip funding from the Bay Program.
“We will stop it through the appropriations process,” Van Hollen said. “We recently reached a bipartisan budget agreement here in the Senate and in the House. The administration had very little to do with it. But that budget agreement provides funding levels that would be adequate to ensure that we have full funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program – the $73 million program.”
Even with full funding, however, the Bay cleanup could fall apart if Trump’s EPA administrator doesn’t have the political will to impose financial penalties on bay region states that fail to meet pollution limits established by EPA in 2010, also called the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL.
“There is no evidence that Scott Pruitt will take on the enforcement role that he really should in order to protect the Chesapeake Bay,” said Van Hollen. “He was a party to a lawsuit before he even became EPA administrator that would have undermined and undone Maryland’s TMDL program. So he’s clearly hostile to the effort to clean up the Bay.”
In other words, the recent progress in improving the bay’s health over the last eight years could be undone by the Trump Administration’s inaction as much as by its budget axe.