WASHINGTON – Maryland environmental groups that have in the past supported Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, now say the nine-term congressman is turning his back on the environment.
They are upset by Hoyer’s positions on three key issues in this session of Congress — Site 104, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the proposed National Harbor project on the Potomac River.
“We do not understand what has changed and why he is going the route he is going,” said Mary Marsh, legislative chair of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter. “What we fear is that he thinks he can fool the citizens of the state of Maryland into looking at his past record and not his current one.”
But a spokeswoman vehemently denied that Hoyer has ignored the environment.
“Congressman Hoyer has in the past, and continues, to secure millions of dollars in appropriations [for environmental causes],” said Debra DeShong, the spokeswoman.
“To say that he does not care about the environment, or even that he is drifting away from it, shows a total lack of knowledge about his actions,” she said.
Environmental groups are most upset by Hoyer’s stance on Site 104, an area of the Chesapeake Bay where the state wants to dump material that is dredged from the bay’s shipping channels.
E.J. Pipkin, secretary of Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping Inc., said the dredge could contain heavy metals, nitrogen and sediment that would harm fish, crabs and aquatic vegetation. He said his group was “mystified” about Hoyer’s apparent support for Site 104.
“The congressman has always claimed to be a friend of the bay and we were surprised to see him weigh in in favor of dumping,” Pipkin said.
But DeShong said Hoyer “has never said that he supports dumping at Site 104. He supports moving forward and evaluating the options.”
One area were DeShong agrees Hoyer is at odds with environmentalists is on the proposed replacement for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Hoyer supports a new 12-lane span to replace the aging, narrow drawbridge that carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River.
Frank Fox, a D.C. metro representative for the Sierra Club, called the planned new bridge “a monster.” He said the Sierra Club wanted Congress to consider a tunnel, which he said was just as viable an alternative.
But DeShong said Hoyer supports the drawbridge, as do most other state and congressional officials from Maryland and Virginia. “It has been heavily studied and this is the best option,” she said.
On the Prince George’s County side of the Wilson Bridge sits the proposed National Harbor, a waterfront development that is being compared to Baltimore’s Harbor Place.
“It would be as big as two Pentagons, and it would be right in the backyard of existing neighborhoods,” Fox said. “We’re trying to reason with them to get the development to happen in downtown Oxon Hill, which is not far away.”
But DeShong said no developers were willing to build in Oxon Hill, and that the current location was ideal. “It’s going to be a great economic benefit to Prince George’s County,” she said.
Hoyer has had an impressive environmental voting record in the past, said Betsy Loyless, political director of the League of Conservation Voters. But she agreed that concerns raised by the Maryland groups were legitimate.
“Obviously these are critical local issues,” she said. “Overall, his votes are quite positive, but his stands on these particular issues are not, we feel, in the best interests of the country.”
Marsh said her Sierra Club chapter faxed Hoyer a letter two weeks ago asking to meet with him, but it never got a response. She said the group will mail another letter Monday, return-receipt requested.
DeShong said no one in her office had seen the fax Marsh referred to, but that Hoyer has always had an open door policy and that he would welcome a discussion with the Sierra Club.
But she added that Hoyer has “discussed these issues with them at length.”
“They know our positions,” she said, “and we definitely know their positions.”