- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

Rep. Norm Dicks, the House Democrat in charge of spending for the environment, is proposing a dramatic increase in funding for a water-cleanup program in Washington state that’s run by his son.

Under the leadership of Mr. Dicks, chairman of the House Appropriation subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, Democrats are seeking to boost funding for the Puget Sound to $50 million in 2010, up 150 percent from what’s being spent this year and what was proposed by President Obama for next year.

It’s the second time in recent years that Puget Sound has seen an increase in spending, following a $5 million jump to $20 million in 2008 after David Dicks, the congressman’s son, was named to head the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency charged with coordinating policy.

David Dicks did not return messages seeking comment but a spokesman for the congressman told The Washington Times that Puget Sound is “a long-term concern of Rep. Dicks that predates his son’s appointment and, in fact, predates his son.”

“We are at the point where there is now regional consensus on an action agenda and the subcommittee - with Norm Dicks as chairman - increased the appropriation level to the same amount as the analogous program on the Chesapeake Bay,” said spokesman George Behan.

Mr. Behan noted that the panel also increased funding for the Great Lakes program. The subcommittee recommended folding the $23 million the Great Lakes got for environmental cleanup last year into a new $475 million program called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Still, the funding increase for Puget Sound stands in contrast with that of the Chesapeake Bay. The Obama administration requested an increase of $4 million for the Bay for 2010, for a total of $35.1 million, but froze requested funding for Puget Sound at $20 million.

Instead, Norm Dicks’ subcommittee boosted both numbers to $50 million - a 150 percent increase for Puget Sound, but only a 43 percent increase for the Bay.

The bill would give the money to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with directions to spend $50 million on projects to clean up Puget Sound. It requires $4 million of that to go to a university research program, but leaves the rest to be administered as EPA and local officials see fit.

The Senate has not yet released its own environmental spending proposal.

Puget Sound has indeed benefited since Norm Dicks became chairman of the Appropriation subcommittee when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007.

In his first environmental spending bill that June, Norm Dicks called for Puget Sound to get $15 million. In August of that year, his son was appointed executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. When the final House-Senate compromise bill was passed in December, Puget Sound received $20 million.

Asked earlier this year about the $5 million budget increase, David Dicks told The Times he was unable to explain the change in funding.

“Candidly, I don’t know why it went from 15 to 20,” he said, adding that he didn’t lobby his father for the money and said both Norm Dicks and every other member of the Washington state congressional delegation has been a dedicated supporter of Puget Sound, the environmentally fragile heart of northwestern Washington’s marine ecosystem.

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