EPA ship may be threatened by impasse in federal budget Money could run out by April, official says

March 12, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The federal environmental research ship that monitors ocean dumping and sewage discharges off Maryland's beaches may be tied to its dock in Curtis Bay this summer because of the federal budget impasse.

The U.S. Ocean Survey Vessel Peter W. Anderson, which patrols the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for the Environmental Protection Agency, will run out of money next month unless Congress and the president reach a budget agreement favorable to the EPA, said John R. Pomponio, environmental testing director for the EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region, which manages the ship.

He said the 165-foot ship leaves shortly for a two-week research cruise to Maine, then returns to Curtis Bay to await more money. "We could end up doing nothing for the rest of the year," he said.

The EPA would face a 25 percent budget cut in the budget passed by Congress but vetoed by President Clinton. Expecting a reduction of that magnitude in a final budget agreement, the EPA has slowed many programs, including the work of the Anderson. Its $1.5 million annual operating budget would be cut 40 percent, Mr. Pomponio said.

If fiscal relief does not arrive, the Anderson's contract crew of 15 would be reduced to the minimum needed to keep it operational. The rest would be laid off.

"This isn't about politics," said W. Michael McCabe, the EPA's regional administrator. "For 25 years we've had a bipartisan consensus in favor of protecting public health and our environment. Now, a handful of extreme anti-environmentalists in Congress and their corporate sponsors would take us back to the days when rivers were catching fire."

The Anderson is the EPA's only oceangoing research vessel. Converted for EPA use in 1979, the ship is packed with scientific gear, analytical labs, sonar and underwater camera equipment. It operates 300 days a year. ......TC Last summer on the Chesapeake, scientists from the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies sailed on the former gunboat, called the Antelope during the Vietnam era. It was the second year of a three-year, $2.2 million EPA study of the impact of air pollution on water quality.

"If we can't get out this summer, it really is pretty devastating to that study," said Joel E. Baker, an associate professor.

Other East Coast research vessels, including some operated by the National Science Foundation, are "heavily booked," and their numbers are dwindling, Dr. Baker said. "We need to fight for the ones we already have. The chances of replacing them are virtually nil."

He complained of what he called a "disconnect" between the money spent on regulation and pollution control, and "the relatively small amount of money spent to figure out whether they're doing any good."

Capt. Mark Strout, commander of the Anderson for three years, called the looming shutdown "a setback. We have more work now than we can accomplish."

David Redford, chief of the ocean dumping section, said shipteams have tracked industrial polluters responsible for floating debris found on the Baltimore and Philadelphia waterfronts, and helped recover drums of arsenic trioxide that fell from a freighter in 1992 off New Jersey.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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