McDonnell’s funds cut for Potomac panel challenged

Appointee: ‘Glaring errors’ in decision

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RICHMOND — A Virginia appointee to a multistate commission charged with cleaning and maintaining the Potomac River has released a scathing letter refuting the McDonnell administration’s justification for cutting funds to the 71-year-old compact.

Rob Hartwell, an appointee of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), said in the letter that withholding the relatively modest $151,500 annual appropriation jeopardizes other cost-sharing federal programs and EPA grants as well as state-based conservation programs dependent on the funding.

“I wanted to point out some glaring errors … and most importantly, show that it will cost Virginia at least $530,000 should this decision be enacted by the General Assembly,” he wrote in his Dec. 7 letter, which he released after a report in The Washington Times on the cost-cutting decision by the Republican governor’s administration.

Mr. Hartwell’s letter contests, point-by-point, an Oct. 27 letter from Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech explaining why the state cut the funding to the commission, which has been existence since 1940, with Virginia one of its founding members.

Among the reasons, Mr. Domenech wrote that the work of the commission often is duplicative of work performed by other multistate groups, such as the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Withdrawing, Mr. Domenech said, would not hurt the state’s larger effort of helping clean the Bay or following through on other water-resource programs.

“Unfortunately, no examples are given, and I cannot find anywhere that this is the case,” Mr. Hartwell wrote in his response to Mr. McDonnell. “As your appointee on the Commission, it is important that I represent Virginia’s interests and I have found that the programs being funded are unique and would not be offered unless Virginia chose to hire new staff at agencies or contract out for services that would be much more expensive than those provided by ICPRB.”

Mr. Hartwell cited as an example a $235,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water-quality grant “that would disappear with elimination of Virginia’s role in ICPRB.”

Mr. Hartwell, a longtime Republican activist and a former tax expert for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill, said in an interview that he had not intended to release the letter but that he never got a satisfactory response after he sent it. He did receive a phone call from a member of the governor’s staff regarding the issue, he said.

The letter also criticizes another appointee to the commission, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director David K. Paylor, for his scant attendance at meetings.

“It is unfortunate that one of your ex officio appointees, the director of DEQ, has only attended one meeting of the ICPRB in approximately six years of serving as a Virginia Commissioner,” Mr. Hartwell wrote. “Perhaps if he had, this issue would have been much better understood.”

Attempts to contact Mr. Paylor were unsuccessful. Mr. Domenech’s office is reviewing the concerns addressed in the letter, according to Mr. McDonnell’s office.

Mr. Domenech’s letter acknowledged that the commission — which has a $2.5 million budget and also includes members from the District, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the federal government — is a benefit to local, D.C.-area water authorities. But he characterized it as “a regional benefit that serves what has largely been viewed as a local function.”

Again, Mr. Hartwell disagreed.

“If more than one-third of Virginia’s population is deemed a local function, one must question that definition,” he wrote. “The Secretary seems to think the Potomac Basin’s water needs, stretching from the West Virginia border, and including the entire Shenandoah Valley as well as Northern Virginia, is a local issue. That is simply not the case.”

Mr. Hartwell said he agrees in principle with Mr. McDonnell’s broader effort to streamline government in areas where it needs cutting, but he said the commission was not one of those areas.

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