WASHINGTON – Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, received an “Oinker” award from a government watchdog group Wednesday for her support of a $225,000 study of chicken manure as a potential energy source.
Mikulski was one of 11 lawmakers singled out by Citizens Against Government Waste for spending taxpayers’ money on what it identified as pork- barrel projects.
The watchdog group said that Congress approved more than $12 billion in pork-barrel spending on 2,838 projects for fiscal 1999. At a news conference that featured a live hog rooting through paper money, the group identified 366 projects, worth $1.4 billion, that it identified as the most flagrant pork- barrel spending.
But one man’s pork is another man’s legitimate project, and Mikulski’s office defended the chicken manure study as “vital” to the Delmarva economy. Mikulski’s communications director Mona Miller called the pork-barrel report “grossly misguided” and more interested in finding catchy names than in evaluating real research.
“I think the organization has unfortunately mischaracterized a project that is extremely important not only for the poultry industry but for the state of Maryland,” Miller said.
Burning chicken manure to generate electricity has been suggested as one way to dispose of the more than 400,000 tons of waste that is produced each year on the state’s poultry farms. While it may sound far-fetched, similar systems are already in place in Europe, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture seriously studying the idea.
“That technology is already in place in England,” said Royden N. Powell III, assistant secretary in the state Agriculture Department’s Office of Resource Conservation. He said the study backed by Mikulski is important in determining whether it will work here.
“If the technology is available, then let’s not leave any stone unturned” in finding new and alternative energy sources, he said.
The chicken manure study was not the only Maryland project highlighted by Citizens Against Government Waste in its Pig Book Summary. It also cited funding for the Sotterley Plantation, the Accokeek Foundation, the demolition of naval radio towers near Greenbury Point and the revitalization of the Silver Spring business district.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, was “very proud” to help fund Accokeek’s environmental education and the “one-of-a-kind” historic plantation at Sotterley, said Debra Deshong, his press secretary.
Maryland ranked 19th among states in pork spending, according to the group, with over $98 million in projects in the fiscal 1999 budget. Maryland was 37th last year, with a total of $28 million in projects.
The group has seven criteria to determine if a project is “pork,” including whether it serves only a local or special interest and whether funding was not specifically authorized or was not the subject of congressional hearings. A project need only meet one criteria to be labeled pork.
“Some members of Congress simply couldn’t resist the lure of easy money and put partisan political interests over the best interests of taxpayers,” Citizens Against Government Waste President Thomas A. Schatz said in a prepared statement.
But aides to Mikulski and Hoyer said the taxpayers’ best interests are being served.
“Like it or not there are by-products of Americans’ love of chicken … if we can find a way to dispose of that, then everybody wins,” Miller said. The biggest “Oinkers” were Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., for his successful efforts over his career to bring more than $1 billion in federal projects to the Mountain State, including $17.9 million for the National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture. -30-