Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania Governors Back $15 Billion Aid for Bay
MOUNT VERNON, Va. Governors from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania promised this week to put on their lobby hats and campaign on Capitol Hill for more funding for the Chesapeake Bay, even if it means joining supporters of other nationally-funded cleanups such as the Everglades and the Great Lakes.
"We will be up in the halls of Congress within the next 45 days to lobby for that federal support," said Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, which meets annually to discuss bay issues.
The governors, as well as representatives from Washington and the Environmental Protection Agency spent most of their public speeches touting past environmental achievements after meeting in private for about two hours at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate.
With environmentalists outside shouting, "stop the delay -- save the bay," the council took a small step toward setting up a funding authority necessary to raise the billions of dollars it will take to remove the Chesapeake Bay from the federal dirty waters list by a 2010 deadline.
A blue ribbon panel headed by former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles recently recommended the establishment of a funding mechanism by 2007 that can borrow and spend money on bay issues such as cleaning up wastewater plants, planting underwater grasses and preserving forested buffers along streams.
Executive Council members called for a panel of finance and legal experts to develop a plan by July for starting a regional financing authority that could decide where bay money should be spent across the six-state watershed.
"We need to move forward and put it into action," Warner said.
After the meeting, Warner said a combination of state and federal legislation may be required to establish the authority. Warner said the bay states can't succeed within the 2010 at the funding pace they've been on.
The authority would work with a permanent, $15 billion revolving fund -- with about 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funds -- to borrow money and pay for restoring the bay.
Instead of competing with other federal natural resource funding, the bay states are going to work with areas such as the Florida Everglades, said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell. "It will add more lobbyists to the cause," Rendell said.
U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Newport News, who attended the meeting but is not on the council, said he is working with a Chesapeake Bay task force on Capitol Hill to get more funding.
"The amount of money we're talking about is large and certainly challenging with the budget deficit we have," said Scott, referring to the $15 billion price tag the blue-ribbon panel put on cleaning the bay. "But you have to think of what's in jeopardy. The recreation, tourism and maritime industry on the Chesapeake Bay."
Several speakers say progress toward saving the bay is being offset by more people moving into a watershed that already has a human population of 16 million. Rivers like the York and James are holding steady or getting worse when it comes to pollution such as muddy water from erosion and nutrients from human and animal waste, according to federal research. Rockfish and migratory fish are making gains while oysters and blue crabs continue to languish from disease and fishing pressure.
When it comes to state funding, a Maryland official at the meeting touted that state's flush fee that charges households a monthly fee to raise money for upgrading sewage treatment plants and cleaning up agricultural methods that pollute the bay.
The region's leading environmental group, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is trying to introduce a similar fee in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session -- $1 a week for households and $25 a week for industry.
Warner on Monday said he was skeptical about the chances of such a fee passing the General Assembly, citing his failure to get tipping fees for trash disposal passed during his first session as governor. Warner said he would talk to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and legislators "to see if we can find something that has a realistic chance at passage."
The foundation packed the Mount Vernon assembly room with more than 200 bay supporters. William Baker, president of the environmental group, led an outdoor rally just before the governors' speeches.
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News