EPA chief pledges support for restoration of the bay

July 07, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Declaring the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort at "a turning point," the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency pledged continued federal support yesterday after meeting with Maryland environmentalists and the state's two U.S. senators.

Carol M. Browner, in her first visit to Annapolis since being named EPA administrator by President Clinton, said that while the bay's decline appears to have been halted in the past 10 years, restoring the estuary to its historic vitality will take a long time and even greater effort.

Ms. Browner met privately for an hour with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, and with three environmental leaders at the EPA's Chesapeake Bay program office on the Annapolis waterfront. Ms. Mikulski arranged the session to brief the EPA's new chief on the importance, both regionally and nationally, of the bay cleanup effort.

While such briefings for bigwigs normally include a boat trip, this one got no closer to the water than dockside at the Annapolis harbor. Ms. Browner's aides say she is prone to seasickness.

"I live in a neighborhood that discharges to the Chesapeake," she said during a brief news conference after the meeting. Although her home in Takoma Park is some 30 miles from the bay, she noted, the storm drains there are painted with the message that they empty into streams that ultimately feed the estuary.

Ms. Browner said the bay cleanup effort offers "some very important lessons" for dealing with pollution that she hopes to apply nationwide as Congress reviews the federal Clean Water Act this year. Chief among them are the "power of cooperation," she said, and the need to address problems throughout a watershed, not piecemeal.

The EPA chief stood by as Senator Mikulski announced that the Clinton administration will keep $22 million for the bay in EPA's budget for fiscal 1994, despite an overall cut in agency spending. Ms. Mikulski, who heads the Senate subcommittee that funds EPA, vowed to win congressional approval.

The EPA's bay spending plan includes $2 million for restoring lost habitat, which Ms. Mikulski said she hoped would be directed toward reviving oysters and shad, two depleted species that once were the Chesapeake's most lucrative catch.

In the 10 years since Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania agreed to work together to save the bay, the states and federal government have succeeded in cleaning up much of the pollution being piped into the water from industry and cities and towns, Ms. Mikulski said. "Now we're dealing with unseen sources," she added, including airborne contaminants that rain out of the sky.

One of the biggest challenges to restoring the bay will be in managing the region's population growth and development, said Fran Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, one of the environmental leaders invited to meet with Ms. Browner.

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