- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — An environmental group that pushed unsuccessfully this year for a new development fee to pay for Chesapeake Bay cleanup is renewing calls for passage of the so-called Green Fund.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, released a report yesterday critical of federal environmental authorities for calling this summer an “average” year for pollution.

The year was typical of recent summers because pollution caused dangerous low-oxygen zones, algae blooms and fish kills across the watershed. But the foundation said the Environmental Protection Agency”s use of the word “average” in a prediction by its Chesapeake Bay Program gives the wrong impression that water quality in the Chesapeake is OK.

“Here”s my greatest fear — that people are getting used to the Chesapeake Bay being polluted,” said foundation President Will Baker.

The group detailed continuing problems in the Chesapeake, such as a “dead zone” caused by dissolved oxygen levels so low most aquatic life cannot survive. The Chesapeake”s dead zone, a summer occurrence for decades, is growing in area and duration, Mr. Baker said.

The foundation used the summer water-quality data to renew calls for Maryland lawmakers to create a $60 million-a-year fund for Chesapeake cleanup efforts — and more if federal funding is not approved.

A development fee on impervious surfaces, such as traditional pavement, was approved last session by the House but not the Senate. The fee, called a “Green Fund” by supporters, failed amid concerns about Maryland”s projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year.

The foundation argues that although Maryland faces tough fiscal times, an infusion of cash is needed to help improve the Chesapeake.

“We have the science and the strategies to reverse the trend,” said Kim Coble, the foundation”s Maryland director.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the committee that passed the Green Fund last session, said yesterday that some sort of new fund for Chesapeake cleanup is likely to be considered next year.

Mr. Baker and Miss McIntosh said the next attempt may put a fee on all hard surfaces, not just new development.

Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O”Malley, a Democrat, said the governor supported the Green Fund idea last year and is likely to support some version of it again. Miss Hansen said it was not clear whether Mr. O”Malley would include a Green Fund in his proposed budget for next year.

Mr. Baker said the foundation is not pushing for a specific plan for increasing cleanup dollars as long as lawmakers pass something.

“There are plenty of priorities for the state — we understand that,” he said.

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