House committee approves funding for Puget Sound cleanup

Bucking a proposed White House budget that would have cut EPA’s Puget Sound funding entirely, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday voted to approve $28 million for Puget Sound in fiscal year 2018. The amount matches last year’s appropriation for the region, although the bill still faces a vote on the House floor. The Senate will consider its own spending plan and may further revise the numbers.

House Democrats Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus earlier said that they were encouraged by the budget after successfully fending off a proposed $3 million cut that appeared in the original version of the bill. (You can read their amendment on page number 8 of the bill’s Committee Markups. The original allocation for Puget Sound is shown here.)

The budget is part of a $31.4 billion appropriations bill for several federal agencies, including the EPA and the Interior Department. While the House committee voted to maintain Puget Sound cleanup at its current level of EPA funding, the EPA as a whole fared less well. Overall, the bill would cut EPA’s yearly budget from 8.06 billion to 7.5 billion. That’s less than the 31% cut proposed by the Trump administration, but still steep according to some Democrats who wrangled over the proposed legislation.

“A cut of this magnitude endangers our nation’s natural and cultural resources,” said Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the Interior and environment subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, who spoke to EE News. “Once again, the Environmental Protection Agency is hardest hit by the cuts recommended in this bill. The EPA is slashed by $528 million, shouldering a whopping 64 percent of the subcommittee’s overall cut.”

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican from New Jersey disagreed, saying in a press release that the cuts were responsible. “This legislation responsibly supports the agencies and offices we rely on to preserve our natural resources for future generations,” he said. He added that the funding “prioritizes our limited funding to programs that protect environmental safety,” and will “rein in the federal bureaucracy… to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and hinder job creation.”

Puget Sound is one of several Geographic Programs that depend heavily on EPA funding from the proposed legislation. Among them is Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, which received a proposed cut in the bill of $13 million from its $73 million fiscal 2017 allocation. The Puget Sound Institute is among the organizations that would receive funding from the legislation, which is directed through EPA’s National Estuary Program.

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State report says lack of funding is a major barrier to Puget Sound recovery

StateoftheSound2015_reportcoverThe 2015 State of the Sound report from the Puget Sound Partnership points to lack of funding as one of the leading barriers to Puget Sound recovery. The report looks at ongoing progress to restore the health of the ecosystem, but according to the Partnership’s Executive Director Sheida Sahandy, “The rate at which we as a community are continuing to damage Puget Sound is greater than the rate at which we are fixing it.”

Overall, funding has fallen far short of critical needs, the report argues. Projects described in the state’s recovery plan as ‘Near Term Actions’, would have required $875 million to carry out during the years 2014 – 2015, but as of last June had received only $67 million. The period from 2012-2013 had a shortfall of 57%.

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The State of the Sound also describes a lack of significant progress on several key areas of focus for state and federal recovery efforts. The agency tracks a series of ‘Vital Signs’ such as numbers of orcas or fluctuations in herring populations—there are 21 vital signs in all—as indicators of Puget Sound health. “The majority of Vital Sign indicators are, at best, only slowly changing. Few are at—or even within reach of—their 2014 interim targets,” reads the report.

Some vital signs have seen modest improvement, however. The Partnership says that in 2014 removal of shoreline armoring such as seawalls and bulkheads exceeded permits for new armoring structures. Goals for habitat restoration also made some steps forward.

The State of the Sound report includes a series of funding recommendations ranging from continuation of existing allocations to support of legislation that would direct additional funds to key areas like habitats, stormwater and restoration of shellfish beds.

Download the 2015 State of the Sound report.

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