National Estuary Program grants play significant role in Puget Sound recovery

Fir Island scenery Jeff Earlier this week, national media reported that the Trump administration has ordered a freeze on grants and contracts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The situation has generated much concern for many in our region who are wondering what the freeze means for the Puget Sound Partnership and for the protection and recovery of Puget Sound. As of this writing, the situation is still uncertain, although the Washington Post is reporting that the freeze is expected to end Friday.

Initial indications are that EPA-funded recovery projects and programs already approved and funded are not affected. This includes the National Estuary Program, or NEP, grants that support vital work in Puget Sound. Apparently the freeze applies only to new grants and contracts that are not yet underway.

For the past 10 years, the Puget Sound region has received grants annually from the EPA through the National Estuary Program. The NEP is not regulatory and enjoys bi-partisan support in Congress. Our region receives NEP grants because Congress designated Puget Sound as an Estuary of National Significance. This designation resulted from a determination that Puget Sound is critical to the environmental and economic well-being of the nation. There are 27 other estuaries in the U.S. that have also received the designation of Estuary of National Significance.

NEP grants are important to our region, and it would be damaging to lose them. The grants play a significant role in leveraging state and local funds that support Puget Sound recovery projects and programs. For example, in Fiscal Year 2017, Puget Sound received $28 million in NEP Geographic Funds. Of this amount, the Puget Sound Partnership received about $2 million, which among other things supports our set of regionally developed recovery priorities and science programs. We also received NEP money that passed through us to the Northwest Straits Commission ($800,000) and to the nine Local Integrating Organizations (LIOs)—groups that coordinate local ecosystem recovery efforts in the Puget Sound region ($675,000). The Northwest Straits Commission and the LIO member organizations sponsor many of the recovery projects that happen in Puget Sound, and their ongoing activity is vitally important to Puget Sound recovery.

Securing the funding for restoration and protection projects is never easy, and the current uncertainties have proved unsettling for those who care deeply about the well-being of our region. While we don’t know what the ultimate outcome of the freeze on EPA grants and funds will be, we can say the Puget Sound Partnership works every day with local, regional, tribal, state and federal decision-makers to ensure that funding from all sources continues to be available for important projects that protect and recover Puget Sound—its ecology, economy and quality of life. We hope that the new administration supports these ongoing efforts and agrees that there is a high return and value in supporting NEP grant programs.