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Federal Spending Package Includes Significant Boosts To Long Island Sound Conservation

Ryan Caron King
The Connecticut River where it meets Long Island Sound in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, on April 13, 2017.

A federal budget cycle akin to a wild roller coaster ride ended up boosting funding for some environmental work. With his signature last week, President Donald Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion spending package that shores up funding for two conservation and research programs in Long Island Sound.

There was nowhere to go but up.

In budget talks this fiscal cycle, the president proposed zeroing out funding for “Sea Grant,” a federal-state partnership doing coastal science and education.

"What happened this year was a little bit of a shocker. It was unexpected, and it was not necessarily well-rationalized,” said Sylvain De Guise, Sea Grant’s Connecticut director.

De Guise said White House proposals to zero out Sea Grant aren’t new. President Ronald Reagan wanted to do it. And De Guise said recent administrations have prioritized satellites and weather work over coastal science.

Despite presidential posturing, however, Congress usually puts the money back.

This year, De Guise said it actually boosted Sea Grant money by about $2 million.

Trump threatened a veto, but ultimately signed the trillion dollar spending package hours later.

That signature additionally funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at about $8 billion -- a figure on par with FY 2017 enacted levels, according to an EPA official.

The spending bill also provides $766 million for infrastructure investments to states and boosts funding to the Clean Water Fund, according to the EPA and a spokesperson for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

One local beneficiary of that money is the Long Island Sound Study, which gets its funding from the the EPA’s National Estuary Program.

Those funds are used to clean up and protect the zone between Connecticut and New York.

“The news this year, for the first time in a long time, is actually quite positive,” said Curt Johnson, president of Save the Sound and Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It was a 50 percent increase in funding -- it’s the most that Long Island Sound has ever recieved.”

Congress boosted the Long Island Sound Study’s money from $8 million to $12 million. Johnson said funding for the program fluctuated at lower levels under President Barack Obama’s administration.

“We need to be investing in this country -- in things that are essential to not just our national defense, but also our natural defense,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, advocates and agency heads are already queuing up for next year’s budget ride.

Once again, there’s nowhere to go but up. In his new budget proposal, the president has zeroed funding for Sea Grant and the Long Island Sound Study.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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