WASHINGTON – Maryland’s four Republican House members sent a letter this week to House Speaker Newt Gingrich asking him to help preserve funds for a program designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s a specific program to our area that’s important to us. We wanted to make sure they knew that,” said Cathy Bassett, a spokeswoman for Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican and one of the letter signers.
The letter also was signed by Virginia Republican Rep. Herbert H. Bateman, of Newport News, and by Maryland GOP Reps. Constance Morella, of Bethesda; Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., of Lutherville; and Roscoe G. Bartlett, of Frederick.
An annual funding bill passed last year by Congress but vetoed in December by President Clinton called for a 25 percent reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. However, it specified that the Bay program – administered by the EPA – be fully funded.
A short-term spending measure passed Thursday by the House also protected the Bay program, Gilchrest said. The funding measure, if approved by the Senate and Clinton, would expire March 15.
Maryland’s Republicans want to enlist Gingrich’s help to ensure that the next EPA funding bill sent to Clinton – which would likely cover the rest of the fiscal year, through Sept. 30 – also retains full funds for the Bay.
The Republicans’ letter describes the Bay as an “economic and cultural mainstay in Maryland and Virginia, supporting commercial and recreational fisheries, attracting tourism, and providing critical habitat for many species of fish and birds.”
The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary, with a watershed of 64,000 square miles over four states and the District of Columbia.
Neither Gingrich, R-Ga., nor his spokesman could be reached for comment.
In the funding bill vetoed by Clinton, the Bay program’s budget for fiscal 1996 was set at about $21 million.
About $9.6 million was to have gone directly to state governments for projects such as nutrient reduction and pesticide management.
Of that total, Maryland would have received about $2.8 million. Virginia would have gotten about $2.9 million, Pennsylvania $3 million and Washington, D.C., $879,000.
Another $6.7 million was to have been awarded on a competitive basis as grants for universities, local governments and nonprofit organizations. The money would support pollution prevention activities, volunteer citizen monitoring and public education and outreach.