Washington – The Patuxent Environmental Science Center faces budget cuts of at least $1.5 million next year, which would limit its programs to clean up Maryland rivers and promote environmental safety in urban areas.
More than 30 employees of an 180-person staff would be laid off, said David L. Trauger, the center’s deputy director.
A bipartisan group of Maryland members of Congress has urged the National Biological Service to reverse its decision to downsize the center, which is located on the border of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
“We are writing to express our strong opposition to this proposed budget cut,” said the group in a letter sent last week to Biological Services Director H. Ronald Pulliam. “Cutting Patuxent’s maintenance budget is likely to have long-term impacts and costs which will far exceed any short-term savings that might be achieved.”
The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both of Baltimore. Reps. Steny Hoyer, D- Mitchellville, Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, Wayne Gilchrest, R- Kennedyville and Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, also signed it.
Trudy Harlow, a spokeswoman for the National Biological Service, said the service is being forced to cut funds for all 16 of its science centers around the country because its own budget will be slashed by Congress.
A House-Senate conference committee is meeting this week to vote on a funding bill that would give the Biological Service at least $26.7 million less than in 1995. The House proposed cutting the budget by $50 million – one-third of this year’s total budget.
If Congress approves less money than the higher figure proposed by the Senate, Patuxent may face a larger cut than $1.5 million from its current $13.1 million funding level, Harlow said.
“We don’t have nice little pockets of fat that other agencies have before they have to get down to the meat,” said Harlow. “There are no programs that we don’t consider essential for someone.”
She said other research centers would get hit harder than Patuxent. Two would be shut down completely.
Patuxent would have to close its Center for Urban Ecology under both the House and Senate bills. The center is involved in a long-term project to improve water quality in the Anacostia River, as well as projects to improve parks and waterways in cities, particularly Washington.
Trauger said the water improvement project at the Anacostia River has been successful so far. Scientists restored marshes that help take pollutants out of the river.
“We had a spectacular response in vegetation and wildlife. They came back immediately,” Trauger said. He said the center will not be able to monitor changes in the marshes and conduct studies to apply the project to other areas if funds are cut.
“It’s like making an investment and walking away from it,” he said.
The Patuxent Environmental Center will also suffer from administrative cuts, affecting programs from habitat studies for migratory birds to recovery operations for endangered species. “Our research is used by parks in the entire mid-Atlantic region,” said Trauger. Sarbanes, who initiated the effort by the Maryland delegation to avert budget cuts for Patuxent, said the downsizing would be “a step in the wrong direction. In the short term it may save funds, but in the long run it will squander natural resources, exacting a very high cost.” – 30-