Bay area governors will lobby for cleanup

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOUNT VERNON, Va. -- The governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania vowed yesterday to develop a regional financing authority to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay and seek more federal funding to get the job done.

The joint announcement came after a closed meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, a group of governors from the three states, the mayor of the District of Columbia and federal environmental officials that develops goals across the bay watershed.

It follows the recommendations of a panel of finance and legal experts, headed by former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, which estimated late last year that the bay restoration effort would need a $15 billion infusion of state and federal funds to achieve real progress.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who is the first head of his state to lead the executive council, and Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner said they would be a presence in the halls of Congress in the next few weeks to lobby for the funding.

The governors talked of joining with other restoration efforts, such as the Florida Everglades initiative, to highlight the importance of cleanup issues across the nation.

"We are kidding ourselves if we believe that we can restore the Chesapeake Bay or get it off the dirty waters list without making a major funding commitment," Rendell said.

Despite a nearly 30-year effort, the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries still suffer from sewage treatment pollution, urban and agriculture runoff, and increased sediment.

Pollution from excess nitrogen has had a particularly devastating effect on the bay, creating so-called dead zones each summer that limit the oxygen flowing to marine life.

Rendell and Warner acknowledged that, with fiscal pinches and a war in progress, now is not the best time to ask for increased federal funding.

But Baliles, who arrived at his cost estimates using financial and legal experts, said such an action has to be taken.

Under his plan, the federal government would come up with 80 percent of the funding by 2010; the states would come up with the remaining 20 percent.

"Cleaning up the bay will never be less expensive than it is right now," Baliles said.

In their private session at George Washington's historic home, the three governors also adopted new measures to improve migratory fish habitats, reduce agricultural nutrient runoff and restore native oyster populations.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did not attend the public portion of the meeting, but several speakers mentioned his success at passing the "flush tax," a $30-a-year fee charged to Maryland households that will raise up to $65 million to cut nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment plants. Warner said he and Virginia lawmakers are considering a similar measure.

But progress, or the lack of it, was the main issue for the approximately 70 environmental activists who came to the meeting with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Wearing blue buttons that read "Stop the delay -- Save the Bay," the group stood outside as several speakers -- among them a preacher, a fisherman and a former U.S. senator -- decried the lack of political will and funding to clean up the bay.

Maryland Watermen's Association President Larry Simns said federal funds could make the restoration effort more equal. Maryland, for example, is making strides to clean up its sewage.

But in Pennsylvania, where a flush fee could be prohibitively expensive, mustering the will for cleanup is harder because the Keystone State has no bay frontage.

"They need to get a big bunch of federal money so that all the states can do it together instead of one state picking away at it and another state dumping on us," Simns said.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said money would go a long way toward solving the watershed-wide sewage treatment problem. At Mount Vernon yesterday, Baker said he hoped the historic setting on the Potomac River might inspire action.

"This is the capital of the most industrialized nation in the world, and we're still putting untreated sewage into areas of the bay," Baker said. "That ought to be something that simply can't continue another year, especially when the technology is available."

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