WASHINGTON – President Bush will include an additional $10 million in his fiscal 2005 budget to fund pilot programs aimed at improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, administration and state officials announced Tuesday.
The new money, which will boost the president’s overall national watershed initiative from $15 million this year to $25 million next year, was announced in Annapolis by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt and Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
“The bay’s health depends on federal support, and the president’s generosity here today demonstrates his serious commitment to a cleaner bay,” Ehrlich said in a prepared statement.
But environmental groups and some lawmakers were quick to say that the extra money is only a fraction of the billions of dollars that they say are needed to clean up the bay.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., said in a prepared statement this week that he wants at least a “billion dollars for the bay.” Sarbanes’ office on Monday re-released a 2003 letter signed by him and 21 other senators and congressmen that said $9.4 billion was “needed to reduce nutrients and sediments in the bay” to acceptable levels.
The additional $10 million being proposed by the president is merely a “drop in the bucket,” and does not even begin to address the problems of the bay, said Sarbanes’ spokesman Jesse Jacobs.
John Surrick, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, also said that $10 million will do little unless the administration also cracks down on nitrogen releases from wastewater treatment plants in the bay watershed. Nitrogen is a major source of bay pollution, he said, but the technology to reduce output exists and is relatively cheap.
But Ehrlich said the $10 million will help meet new goals to improve the bay’s water quality by reducing nutrients and sediments, expanding stream-side forest buffers from contaminated street runoff and planting protective underwater grasses.
The funds announced Tuesday will be dedicated to Chesapeake Bay projects, officials said, particularly those where sewage treatment plants collaborate with other potential pollution sources to lower nutrient levels in the bay.
A statement from the EPA said the money will be awarded on a competitive basis to fund pilot programs in the bay watershed. But few other details were available on the program, which came as a surprise to some bay supporters — Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, said he was not told of the extra funding before Tuesday’s announcement.
In response to critics who said that $10 million is not enough, Gilchrest stressed that that amount is only Bush’s request, and Congress has the last call.
“We’re generally able to bump that number up,” he said.
Gilchrest, a recognized advocate of the bay, said one of the main impediments to clean up is the lack of communication and collaboration between public and private groups.
“It’s so hard to sit down with people like the governor, senators, congressmen, scientists, all in one room,” Gilchrest said.
“We’re all going in different directions,” he said. “It’s like a stagecoach being pulled by six different horses.”
-30- CNS 01-27-04