EASTPORT – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich spoke out Friday against proposals to cut over $15 million in environmental spending from his recommended 2007 budget.
“The cuts being considered by our lawmakers will weaken the state’s ability to protect our natural resources and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay,” Ehrlich said. “I urge our lawmakers to give the citizens of Maryland what they deserve: cleaner water, protected landscapes and better energy efficiency.”
Friday’s press conference was the third time in four days that Ehrlich has publicly denounced budget-slashing recommendations. At Baltimore press conferences, Ehrlich expressed opposition Tuesday to various public safety cut proposals and on Wednesday to proposed health care cuts.
Administration officials, members of Ehrlich’s cabinet and leaders of various environmental groups gathered Friday at the Severn Sailing Association to oppose the proposed budget cuts.
“We have a whole process that we’ve gone through to identify what needs to be done to clean up the Bay,” Kendl P. Philbrick, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said. “These budget cuts would stop that initiative.”
The administration listed fourteen environmental initiatives to which the Department of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan branch of the General Assembly, has recommended the House and Senate cut funding.
“These proposals have been getting very serious consideration from the legislature,” Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said. “Until the legislature rules them out, the Governor is very concerned that they might become a reality.”
The proposed cuts, according to the statement, include $2.9 million for tributary strategies and related programs such as cover crops and wetland creation, $5 million for Rural Legacy bonds, $2.3 million for solar energy and alternative energy programs, $1.1 million in Parks and Recreation funding and $1.5 million in waste management and hazardous substance cleanup.
But the cut that Ehrlich, his cabinet and environmentalists expressed the most opposition to Friday was the proposed slashing of $2.4 million to the Corsica River Watershed Restoration Action Strategy and the Targeted Watershed Restoration Program.
The Corsica River initiative is a program that state agencies plan to use as a model to prove that restoration of the watershed is viable, and to show the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other groups that the state can get a waterway, albeit a small one, off the EPA’s List of Impaired Waters.
“Reducing or eliminating those funds will deal a serious blow to any realistic chance we have of not only saving the Corsica but of establishing an approach for saving other bay watersheds throughout Maryland,” Frank DiGialleonardo, president of the Corsica River Conservancy said.
Secretary of Planning Audrey E. Scott said she is concerned that cutting funding for the Corsica River project could undermine efforts throughout the Bay watershed.
“You’ve got take baby steps before you run,” she said. “This can’t be done in isolation. It needs to be a complete partnership with agencies, locals, the legislature, fishermen and everyone else. Right now the missing partner is the legislature.”
Some of the proposed cuts would have a negative impact on state agricultural programs and because of that, Lewis R. Riley, secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, also expressed opposition to the recommended cuts.
“In agriculture,” Riley said, “our four biggest concerns are land preservation and certain environmental issues such as cover crops, nutrient management and soil conservation.” Legislative subcommittees will begin to make decisions on Legislative Services’ budgetary recommendations as early as Friday.