Uncle Sam could eventually pick up part of the tab for Maryland's proposed Pfiesteria-fighting efforts under an anti-pollution program being pushed by the Clinton administration.
The program, to be unveiled by Vice President Al Gore this month, would expand the 26-year-old Clean Water Act with $568 million in new spending to clean up the nation's waterways. Instead of targeting factories as the original law does, the administration proposes letting states come up with plans for solving the trickier problem of polluted water flowing from farms and city streets.
If Congress approves the administration's request, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will offer the states $115 million, said Carol M. Browner, the agency's administrator. Much of the rest will come from the Agriculture Department, in undefined incentives and tax credits for farmers who take steps to control runoff.
Maryland has a voluntary program in place to control farm runoff. Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants the General Assembly to make the controls mandatory and take steps to control urban runoff, at a cost of $41.5 million over the next three years, to help prevent toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria and other microbes.
Maryland Environment Secretary Jane T. Nishida said the state welcomes the help. But even if the federal money comes through, Marylanders will still have to pay to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, she said.
"We have a larger problem," Nishida said. "Even if Pfiesteria had not occurred, we would have needed additional funding. We can't rely on federal support."
Browner, who noted Maryland's "very forward-looking" attempts to control runoff pollution, said some federal money "would be available to supplement the initiatives that Maryland is putting in place now." For example, she said, the federal government could help pay for developing farm-by-farm plans.
The EPA's share of the anti-pollution money could also help pay for programs Maryland has begun: restoring wetlands, building buffer strips that soak up pollution along shorelines and involving residents in cleanup plans of individual rivers and streams.
Details of the plan are being worked out, Browner said.
Prospects for congressional approval are unclear. In 1995, Republican House leaders killed attempts to add controls of farm and urban runoff to a revised Clean Water Act. Some Republican leaders have since confronted pollution problems stemming from agricultural runoff in their districts.
U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican, has been pressing House leaders to hold hearings on the farm runoff issue. Some conservative leaders are becoming more willing to tackle the issue, Gilchrest said.
The administration's initiative can be accomplished without changing the law and won't impose any new regulations, EPA officials said.
Pub Date: 2/04/98