EPA giving $10 million for sewage treatment

But more money needed to help bay, advocates say

January 28, 2004|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency came to Annapolis yesterday to announce a new $10 million in federal grants for sewage treatment projects in Chesapeake Bay country.

But EPA Administrator Michael O. Leavitt refused to say what the total amount for bay restoration will be in the Bush administration's 2005 budget, to be unveiled next week.

And despite not-so-subtle pressure from Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - standing beside him at a news conference - Leavitt did not say whether the federal government will make the Chesapeake Bay a national priority on a par with saving the Everglades, nor whether the president will pledge up to $1 billion a year to reduce bay pollution.

After years of optimistic talk, top leaders have recently acknowledged that the 20-year bay restoration effort is falling short of its goals because it is underfunded, to the tune of about $11 billion over the next ten years.

Last month, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, which includes Leavitt, Ehrlich, the governor of Virginia and the mayor of Washington, pledged to figure out ways to raise the money.

Ehrlich said again yesterday that the Bush administration should commit to "an Everglades-type model," earmarking billions in federal dollars to clean up the bay.

"That's what our lobbying in Washington is all about," Ehrlich said. "Those discussions are ongoing."

But Leavitt did not directly answer a question about whether he supported the idea of a federal save-the-bay initiative, saying only, "There is no better example of collaborative problem-solving than this bay project."

Congressional leaders and environmentalists said they were disappointed by yesterday's announcement.

"This is a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall funding needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who led other members of the Maryland congressional delegation in writing a letter to President Bush, asking for a $1 billion commitment in the budget.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker, who attended the news conference, said the EPA needs to crack down on sewage treatment plants that dump high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay. State and federal environmental officials are giving those plants a break at the bay's expense, issuing them operating permits that are too lax and violate the federal Clean Water Act, he said.

"There's nothing wrong with the $10 million," Baker said, "but what we had hoped to hear was a plan for enforcing the Clean Water Act and closing the billion-dollar gap."

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