President Donald Trump abandons Puget Sound cleanup and restoration in his proposed 2018 budget, which slashes funding for the US Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental programs.
The giant salmon and orca were props, but the eagle and outrage were real at a rally for Puget Sound on Wednesday on the waterfront of Elliott Bay.
“That eagle is here for us,” said Jim Rasmussen of the Duwamish Tribe, pointing to an eagle over the bay as he kicked off a demonstration convened by advocates for Puget Sound to push back against deep cuts in environmental programs proposed by President Donald Trump.
Trump’s spending plan for 2018 outlined for Congress includes elimination of the $28 million national estuary program for Puget Sound funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The money pays for environmental restoration and protection work, from replacing fish-blocking culverts to monitoring for pollution in shellfish beds.
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Trump also wants to eliminate all funding for the Sea Grant program, a 50-year old partnership through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and universities for research, monitoring and improvement of coastal environments.
In his proposal, Trump said he was eliminating “under performing” programs and devolving the EPA’s restoration work to states and local governments.
But instead, the cuts would unravel existing partnerships that deliver more value for local communities than the programs cost, defenders said.
In Washington, the Sea Grant program, in collaboration with the University of Washington College of the Environment, is helping with everything from research and monitoring of salmon recovery and the dynamic nearshore environment of the Elwha River since dam removal, to assisting communities in tracking sea-level rise, noted Penny Dalton, director of Washington Sea Grant.
At the EPA, the cuts would derail multiyear scientific studies already underway and defer or cancel critical restoration work, said Dennis McLarren, former administrator for EPA in Region 10 in Seattle. “We know salmon are in trouble. We know orcas are in trouble. On shellfish, we have gone forward in some places and backward in others,” McLarren said. “We have a lot of work left to do.”
Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council, said Puget Sound advocates need the Washington State Legislature to step up to backfill the cuts in EPA funds. Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget request to the Legislature provided $907,000 for that purpose, but the GOP budget released by the Senate did not do so.
The Senate budget also does not address a continuing funding crisis to clean up more than 5,000 contaminated sites around the state under the citizen-initiated Model Toxics Control Act, Kelley said.
“They are failing to step up and fill the holes,” she said of Senate budget writers.
Laura Blackmore, of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency charged with improving the quality of Puget Sound’s health by 2020, said at issue isn’t only the health of the Sound, but the economy of the Puget Sound region.
Washington state leads the nation in shellfish production. The Puget Sound also is an important tourism draw, and a boost to the quality of life that draws employers.
Now is not the time to turn away from work still gathering momentum to turn around more than a century of pollution of the region’s signature water body, she noted.
Most of the federal funds to the agency are passed through to pay for work by tribes and local restoration programs.
Democratic lawmakers said they are opposing cuts in Puget Sound programs.
“The Senate majority budget is awkwardly, painfully uninterested in the environment,” said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, who noted proposed cuts in the Partnership’s budget are “devastating.”
Carlyle said the agency does necessary work providing a coordinated strategic plan for restoring clean water, salmon abundance and “the soul of Washington, Puget Sound.”
He said he opposes disinvesting in the Sound’s recovery even as steelhead runs are crashing and other treasured wild signatures of the Sound are in trouble.
Rasmussen noted that in addition to the legal obligation to sustain tribal fisheries reserved under treaties, there is a moral obligation to pass on the Puget Sound to the next generation better than it is today.
“We must protect that legacy,” Rasmussen said.
“I’m Duwamish. … My cousins and aunties and uncles are the salmon, the herring, the cedar trees,” he added, saying the progress in the Sound and Duwamish River clean up must be continued. “We can’t go back now. We won’t.”
Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance noted that everything is connected in Puget Sound. “The mighty orca whale cannot exist without the chinook salmon, and the salmon are contaminated with PCBs. We need to restore the salmon and the orca whales.
“We need to tell Congress to reject these proposals. Congress has the power. They can reject these cuts.” Puget Sound, he said, must be “Fishable. Diggable (for clammers). Swimmable. And livable.”