It shouldn't come as a surprise that a few individuals and disparate groups, claiming to be environmentalists, have threatened to block development of National Harbor, an upscale resort and entertainment complex being proposed in Prince George's County.

What is surprising, if not puzzling, is that Congress and federal agencies that claim oversight in the matter are unwittingly aiding and abetting so-called environmentalists who oppose the project.

The Peterson Cos., National Harbor's developer, has already received the necessary approvals and permits from federal and state environmental regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Moreover, the developer has deposited a $1 million fee in the Maryland Tidal Wetlands Compensation Fund to cover possible adverse environmental effects. And Peterson has posted a $1.4 million bond to cover possible impact from development in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.

Still, environmentalists are threatening to file a lawsuit to block the development if the National Capital Planning Commission approves an environmental-impact study of the project.

As the federal government's planning agency for the District, the NCPC also has oversight where the federal interest may be at stake in surrounding communities.

In this instance, the NCPC is required to make certain that the development plan for National Harbor conforms to a memorandum of understanding that's part of an agreement that transferred ownership of federal land to Prince George's County more than a decade ago.

That agreement stems from a developer's request for an easement to use 55 acres of federal land to gain access to the site in question long before Peterson bought it.

Congress approved the land transfer to the county but insisted that the memorandum of understanding remain in effect.

The simple fact is, there is no longer any federal interest in National Harbor or in the immediate surroundings. Peterson hasn't requested an easement. There's no need. And neither does he plan to build anything that might impinge on federal interests.

NCPC nevertheless retains oversight in the development of what is now National Harbor because of Congress's paternalistic absurdity.

Simply removing National Harbor from federal oversight would put an end to the harassment and threats to which the developer is being subjected in the name of environmentalism. Maryland Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D) and Albert R. Wynn (D) recently tried to have the MOU repealed but were rebuffed by their colleagues in Congress.

Without the MOU, the NCPC would have no standing in National Harbor. And with the NCPC out of the picture, the environmental zealots would have no basis for filing a federal lawsuit suit that could tie up development at National Harbor for three years or more.

As it is, Congress not only is allowing a federal agency to set land-use policy for Prince George's County but also continues to show total disregard for state sovereignty in the matter.

But this dispute really isn't about legitimate environmental issues. Environmentalism in this instance is a euphemism for parochial elitism, maintaining the status quo, anti-development sentiment and an attempt to maintain the economic divide that separates the region.

Clearly, the concerns raised by critics about environmental issues at National Harbor are unfounded. Few projects have been subjected to as much environmental regulatory scrutiny.

National Harbor is a 535-acre wooded site along the Potomac River at Smoot Bay, just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. About 240 acres are under water. The developer plans to build about 1 million square feet of space in resort hotels, upscale shops, restaurants and offices on the remaining acres.

Although some homeowners whose properties abut the National Harbor site have voiced legitimate concerns about the proximity of the project, the environmental issue is being kept alive by a determined band of antagonists who live either in Prince George's County communities several miles removed from the site or in Northern Virginia.

When so-called environmentalists and their sympathizers contend, for example, that the developer has failed to demonstrate how low-income and minority residents would benefit from development of National Harbor, one can't help but wonder about their real motive for opposing the project. And when environmentalists assert that they know what type of development would be most beneficial to Prince George's County, credibility becomes the issue.

What's really at work in this relentless attack on National Harbor by so-called environmentalists is a striking manifestation of the theme of a recent Brookings Institution report: "A Region Divided."

That report, Brookings researchers noted, is a compelling story of a wealthy region blessed with natural and economic assets but divided by race, class, ethnicity and opportunity.

Apparently there are people who would prefer that the region remains that way, with the eastern portion--primarily the District and Prince George's County--bearing the burden of poverty and enjoying less prosperity than the western half.