Members of Congress who represent Puget Sound are pushing back against the Trump administration’s budget for 2019 in part because it would zero out all federal funding for cleanup and recovery of the iconic ecosystem.
The proposal cuts all funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s geographic program for Puget Sound, as well as for a national estuary program and for Pacific salmon recovery through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries. The administration says it wants local governments to take on the responsibility and continue recovery efforts.
The missing money totals more than $30 million, says Sheida Sahandy, Executive Director of the state’s Puget Sound Partnership, which coordinates cleanup. Those funds are leveraged with money from other state and local sources to get work done, so she says the cuts would be “crippling.”
“We’re at tipping point for, for example, the Orca,” she said, referring to the dwindling population of southern resident killer whales, which has reached its lowest number in 30 years. Only 76 are left in the wild.
“We are fearing extinction around the corner and stopping our efforts at this point in their tracks would essentially mean that we’re giving up on saving them,” Sahandy said, adding that the orcas are only the most obvious example of what’s at stake.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that her agency has been through this once before.
Last year, the President’s budget proposed nearly identical cuts. Congress ultimately pushed back, reinstating all $28 million in the geographic program for Puget Sound in the 2018 budget.
But Sahandy says it will take a lot of advocacy once again. She says Washington state is so far away from the capitol that many well-meaning members of Congress need to be reminded why their support is critical.
“We need to get out there and be present and make sure people are aware that we are a national treasure and that we have a lot of folks out here to whom it’s really important that we make the investments that are necessary to keep our region vital and keep all these resources thriving and alive,” she said. “And just keeping the pressure on.”
She says plans are afoot to once again send a delegation of about 60 local leaders, including tribal representatives, to D.C. in May for a “Puget Sound Day on the Hill.”
Democratic Congressmen Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer, who call themselves the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, are already urging fellow lawmakers to reinstate the funding.
They say there’s bi-partisan support for a healthy Puget Sound because it supports a robust and critical maritime economy that generates $30 billion annually. They calculate that every EPA dollar spent on Puget Sound recovery efforts has leveraged $24 in matching funds from other government agencies and nonprofit entities.