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Area politicians, activists, and environmental groups rallied in Williamsburg Saturday morning against the proposed slashing of all federal funding designated for cleanup programs at the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Nearly 150 people met at College Landing Park on College Creek Saturday to rally in support of keeping the $73 million of funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
The $73 million budget allocation slated to be cut under President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2018 is part of the Environmental Protection Agency's discretionary funding.
Del. Mike Mullin, D-93, and Sen. Monty Mason, D-1, were joined by First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, wife of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Pam Northam, and activists from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Conservation Network, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Indivisible, and the James River Association.
McAuliffe said the bay is worth the federal funds as it’s one of the biggest economic drivers in Virginia.
“That $73 million sounds like a big number,” McAuliffe said before adding, “but in the scope of our federal budget is a small number that has made a huge impact here over the last few decades. The health and welfare of our bay is a tremendous economic asset here in Virginia.”
Activists with Indivisible, a progressive organization founded after the election last November, said they’re worried about the track the administration is taking.
“I’m here because I’m concerned about the budget cuts to the bay cleanup,” Indivisible organizer Josie Soltys said.
Mullin, one of the principal organizers of the “Save the Bay” rally, said he was happy so many people turned out for the rally on a gray, misty morning.
“Everyone here is uniformly -- Republican, Democrat, independent, Libertarian, progressive -- against defunding the bay,” Del. Mullin said. “The Chesapeake Bay is the lifeblood of our community,” Mullin said. “We need to be able to make sure an economic engine like that is protected for generations to come.”
The rally is an important step for the community to stand up for the bay, according to Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
“For 40 years Virginia’s been investing to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” Town said. “We’ve made significant progress in bringing back our fisheries and tourism to the Commonwealth. It’s not a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans both want safe drinking water for their children. Democrats and Republicans both fish the bay. They farm these lands, and they deserve to have their economic futures determined by a clean Chesapeake Bay.”
Mason, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources committee, reiterated at the rally that he doesn’t normally feel it’s his place as a state lawmaker to protest against the administration’s budget proposal.
Earlier in March the initial federal budget proposal called for cutting the Chesapeake Bay funding by 93.2 percent or $68 million, according to Mason. However, on Thursday that number changed to zero funding. The clean-up programs are crucial to the Virginia Peninsula, he said.
“It just shows it’s not a priority for this administration. We have to prove them why it should be a priority for every Virginian and every American," Mason said. “I think it’s important because our congressional delegation is in the right place on this. We have to let them know we need them to keep fighting, we need them to reverse this, and we’ve got their backs at home.”
Funding from the EPA for the Chesapeake Bay began in 1983 when federal agencies entered into an agreement with states bordering the bay. However, clean-up efforts began as early as 1972 with the federal Clean Water Act, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program website.
“Right now we’ve had a zeroing out of all the budget the federal government would be putting toward the Chesapeake Bay cleanup,” Mullin said. “We’ve just started over the last few years to really make the progress we’d been hoping for in the last three and four decades.“