A Washington state ferry sails on Elliott Bay, which is part of Puget Sound, near West Seattle this past October. Washington state officials, environmental advocates and others are warning of dire environmental and economic consequences if President Donald Trump’s cuts to Puget Sound and other environmental programs go through as proposed in his budget that was released last Thursday. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Environmentalists warn about Trump’s Puget Sound budget cuts

By Phuong Le

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — State officials, environmental advocates and others are warning of dire environmental and economic consequences if President Donald Trump’s cuts to Puget Sound and other environmental programs go through as proposed.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s funding for Puget Sound — about $28 million last year — would be gutted under Trump’s budget blueprint released Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 50-year-old Sea Grant program, which focuses on creating a healthy coastal environment and economy, would also be axed, including about a $4 million hit to the program in Washington state.

Kilmer’s take

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Washington state Democrat representing the North Olympic Peninsula, called the cuts “completely irresponsible” and vowed to fight the president’s proposal.

“It sets a bad starting point for the discussion,” Kilmer, who is on the House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview Friday. “These are iconic bodies of water that have an important role, not just environmentally but from an economic standpoint as well.”

Statewide tourism and recreational dollars are tied to Puget Sound and clean water supports shellfish and fishing industries that pumps up the economy, Kilmer said.

EPA money has helped cities, counties, state agencies, local nonprofit and tribes on cleanup efforts in Puget Sound.

The money has been used to restore salmon habitat, help open shellfish beds to harvest, manage stormwater runoff, replace culverts that block salmon passage and prevent flooding while restoring wetlands.

Trump’s spending plan says it “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.”

The plan also targets the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. While the plan doesn’t identify them, a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget this month called for cutting all or most funding for San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

The EPA in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to an email.

“We’re just at the point where we’re seeing things turn a corner,” said Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency set up in 2007 to oversee restoration of one of the nation’s largest estuaries.

“It’s a huge hit,” she said, adding that cuts could mean less monitoring of pollutants that get into shellfish beds or backsliding on efforts to restore endangered salmon runs.

She and others say federal cuts will put pressure on already strained state budgets.

Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center said Puget Sound recovery should be a local priority and local funding will mean more local control.

He said it’s disingenuous for local leaders to protest proposed cuts for Puget Sound when they have not prioritized spending for salmon recovery and Puget Sound.

“It’s ironic to criticize people in Washington, D.C., for not treasuring what is in our own backyard when we won’t prioritize what’s in our own backyard,” Myers added.

Trump’s plan also eliminates funding for the nation’s Sea Grant program. NOAA money makes up about $4 million, or about two-thirds, of the funding for Washington Sea Grant.

The 50-year-old partnership between the University of Washington and NOAA has trained commercial fishermen in safety and marine technologies, funded research into technologies to monitor and measure algae that cause harmful blooms, supported a citizen science project tracking invasive European green crabs and helped communities prepare for coastal hazards such as tsunamis and sea-level rise.

Penny Dalton, the group’s executive director, said Washington Sea Grant provides about $9 million in economic benefits each year.

“It seems like it’s a pretty good deal,” she said.

Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Community, said Puget Sound has been under assault for the past century from pollution and other problems and that this budget proposal takes “10 steps back.”

Cladoosby, who also is president of the National Congress of American Indians, said he and others have worked closely with lawmakers to ensure that the proposal doesn’t end up being passed.

“This is the president’s blueprint,” Cladoosby said. “Lord willing, our friends in the House and the Senate will not see it the same way as the president does.”

Geoduck clams are kept fresh in seawater before being transported after being harvested in 2015 for Taylor Shellfish Farms near Harstine Island, in Puget Sound. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

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