Bay panel lobbies Congress for funds

$2.5 billion in new money, tripled effort in cleanup sought by tri-state group

May 09, 2003|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Armed with a study that pegs the price of Chesapeake Bay cleanup at $18.7 billion by the end of the decade, members of a tri-state commission came to Capitol Hill yesterday to seek added federal funds.

They took a request for $2.5 billion in new federal money - on top of $1 billion in U.S. funds they say is already earmarked for the bay by 2010 - to lawmakers from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"We have basically come to Congress to say we probably need to triple that involvement, along with tripling the states' involvement" in bay restoration, Ann P. Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, told Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican.

"In a sense," she said before the meeting, "it's a somewhat depressing time. The federal government does not have the money. The state does not have the money and the locals do not have the money. We're at a very critical time."

Members of the commission - state legislators and Cabinet secretaries from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania - fanned out on Capitol Hill to meet with two dozen members of Congress and their staffs. Accompanying Swanson to the meeting with Gilchrest were two members of the Maryland General Assembly, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat.

"It appears we need about $18.7 billion to do actually what is in the bay agreement," Swanson told Gilchrest. She referred to a pact signed in June 2000 by the governors of the three states, the mayor of the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement sets a series of goals for protection and restoration of the bay.

The revised estimate of the total bay cleanup cost appeared in a commission report produced in January.

"These numbers are staggering," the report acknowledged, but it argued that "they must be put in context." It compared the bay cost to the $15 billion price tag for restoring the Florida Everglades, which is less than one-third the size of the Chesapeake.

Gilchrest seemed taken aback when Swanson mentioned $18.7 billion. "That's not all federal money," he said.

Swanson said that $5.8 billion in state and local money is in the pipeline, and that the commission hopes to come up with an added $12.8 billion from federal, state and local governments, and about $25.7 million in new funds from the private sector.

She said the federal government shoulders about 18 percent of bay restoration costs. Maintaining that ratio would require $2.5 billion in new federal funds.

The most expensive piece of the bay cleanup involves improvement to water quality - an $11.5 billion effort to reduce runoff from farmland and septic systems, and to upgrade 288 sewage treatment plants to reduce nitrogen discharges.

This comes at a time when the Bush administration has recommended a cut in federal funding for sewage treatment upgrades that would cost Maryland $12 million.

Gilchrest was optimistic that Congress could find the funds.

"We'll do our best to get that money," he said after the meeting, noting that Congress provides $18 million to $20 million a year for the bay.

"With a $2 trillion budget and growing, there's money out there," he said.

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