- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

Governors from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania said yesterday they plan to lobby Congress hard in the next 45 days for funding dedicated to a long-term cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The members of the Chesapeake Executive Council consider the Bay a national treasure similar to the Great Lakes and Florida’s Everglades.

The governors met at George Washington’s historic home at Mount Vernon for the annual meeting of the council, which includes the governors, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and federal officials.

The governors endorsed a blue ribbon commission plan to create a regional financing authority with $15 billion. Without the substantial increase in funding, the jurisdictions will not meet their water restoration goals by 2010, said Gov. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the group.

“Incrementally adding $10 [million], $50 [million], $100 million isn’t going to get there,” Mr. Warner said. “It’s going to take a major commitment for us to build the public support that this is not simply a regional issue but this, the Chesapeake Bay, is a national treasure.”

Rather than compete with other environmental efforts, the Chesapeake Watershed leaders want to team up with efforts to restore waterways such as the Everglades and Great Lakes, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell said.

“That doubles the amount of congressmen and senators who are involved in the effort,” said Mr. Rendell, a Democrat who will take over as chairman of the council.

The panel led by former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, recommended a $12 billion federal contribution and $3 billion from the states in dedicated Chesapeake funding.

Bay advocates say the states should follow Maryland’s lead by imposing a sewer fee to help upgrade treatment of raw sewage that ends up in the Bay. A $1 per week sewer fee, or what opponents describe as a “flush tax,” faces uncertainty in Richmond. Mr. Warner has not thrown his support behind the idea.

Mr. Warner said he is talking with members of the General Assembly “to see if we can find something that has a realistic chance of passage this year.”

“Whether it is redirecting existing resources or new resources, those are all things that we’ll continue to have discussions with the legislators on,” Mr. Warner said.

A sewer fee is affordable, amounting to less than the cost of a gallon of milk, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker. He said state leaders hadn’t met their goals from last year and aren’t moving fast enough to fund improvements.

“We’re seeing more delay, and I don’t know how much longer the Bay can take it,” Mr. Baker said.

The foundation opposes the governors’ efforts to partner with other national cleanup efforts, he said, because “it’s a prescription for getting far less than what’s needed.”

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