Group: Key Cleanup Programs Take Hit in U.S. Spending Bill

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2007

An analysis of the federal spending bill signed into law by President Bush yesterday revealed cuts to programs key to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The group said the $555 billion omnibus bill that will fund government agencies through September includes reductions to several critical programs, including one designed to curb pollution from farming and another that aims to restore the population of native oysters.

The biggest cut was to a program that provides communities low-interest loans for upgrades to sewage treatment plants, said Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the nonprofit foundation. He said the program took a $395 million hit, of which almost $44 million will be cut in the six states that make up the bay watershed: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and West Virginia.The District is also in the watershed.

Without the loans, he said, some communities would be forced to cut money from other projects so they can upgrade sewage plants. Others probably will forgo the effort, even though improvements are required by law in some cases.

"These are critically important, especially to small communities," he said. "And from the bay perspective, the longer upgrades take to achieve, the more expensive cleanup becomes."

A program designed to reduce farm runoff, a major source of bay pollution, was cut by $1.7 million, he said, and bay research and restoration programs operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were reduced by $3.8 million.

Siglin praised increases in the spending bill for educational programs, however, saying those are also important to cleaning up the long-polluted watershed.

Josh Voelker, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Program, said he had not read the foundation's analysis and could not comment on it. The program is a state and federal governmental partnership that leads bay cleanup efforts.

The restoration effort could get a boost in the new year when Congress considers massive increases to watershed conservation programs. The House and the Senate have passed versions of a farm bill that include more than $150 million in pollution-reduction programs.

Siglin said he hopes important funding increases will survive the bill reconciliation process between the two chambers. However, he noted that Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

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