Va. governor, seeking to dispel doubts, strongly backs bay cleanup effort

October 15, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

ST. LEONARD -- Virginia Gov. George Allen, assuming leadership of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, sought yesterday to dispel fears that his state was backsliding in the cleanup.

After a luncheon meeting here with Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other leaders of the restoration, Mr. Allen declared his enthusiasm for the 11-year-old effort.

"We share that common goal and that common commitment, regardless of minor differences over methods," said Mr. Allen, a

Republican who has worried environmentalists with his conservative views.

The meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council was held at (( Jefferson Patterson Park, on the Patuxent River in Calvert County.

Since winning the governorship a year ago, Mr. Allen has vowed to defend private property rights and has sparred with federal officials over environmental protection.

But yesterday, Virginia and the other partners in the cleanup -- Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency -- responded to criticism from environmentalists by amending a new plan for reducing toxic pollution in the bay.

The partnership had been prepared to revise the goal set in 1987 from seeking a "toxics-free" bay to one "free of toxic impacts." That proposal came under fire this week from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which warned that the states would be "backpedaling" on their original commitment to ridding the bay of toxic pollution.

After more than an hour of closed-door debate, during which EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner argued against the proposed change, the leaders agreed to drop any reference to "impacts."

Ms. Browner said she feared that the new wording would have set a bad precedent. But Mr. Schaefer, ending three years as leader of the bay cleanup, said the states' intentions were not in doubt.

Industries already have reduced toxic releases by 52 percent in the past five years, he said, adding that "it's impossible to take all the toxics out of the bay."

Mr. Allen belittled the debate over language, saying it diverted attention from the bay's chief water-quality problem, excessive nutrients from sewage, fertilizer and development.

He also warned that the public would rebel against environmental programs they could not understand and support. repeated his desire for environmental protection based on "sound science" and stressed his belief that economic growth is essential for protecting the environment.

The toxic-pollution plan calls for cleaning up severe contamination in the sediments and waters of Baltimore's harbor, the Anacostia River in Washington and the Elizabeth River near Norfolk, Va. It also calls on industries and sewage-treatment plants to halve their toxic releases into the air and water by the end of the decade, and to curb the worst contaminants by up to 75 percent.

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