While overall federal spending would increase by 4 percent next year, the Bush administration’s first budget would cut environmental agencies, including the Bay Program, in 2002.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would cut federal spending for environmental and natural resources programs by $2.3 billion — to $32.3 billion. That’s a 7.2 percent reduction from this year. When adjusted for inflation, the “real dollar” reduction is 11 percent.

“We’re sort of treating it as an anti-environmental administration,” said Charlie Stek, an aide to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD.

Administration officials contend environmental agencies are not being cut, but are instead returning to normal levels of spending after a one-year spending surge in 2001. Much of the reductions reflect the elimination of special projects, or “earmarks,” added by Congress in appropriations bills last year.

“Lawmakers, as we all know, add projects that are often inconsistent with an agency’s priorities,” EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said. “We are establishing our own priorities.”

The budget indicates a bit of a mixed bag for Bay-related efforts, although several important programs face major reductions.

Funding for the EPA’s Bay Program Office would be reduced from $20.7 million this year to $18.8 million next year. The budget cut, in part, reflects the elimination of a $1.25 million Congressional “earmark” for the Small Watershed Grants Program, which provides money to local governments and organizations for community-based restoration and education efforts.

But last year, Congress approved legislation to reauthorize the Bay Program’s existence which specifically requires it to support the watershed grants program starting in 2002. If Congress does not add more money, the Bay Program would have to cut deeper into its budget to fund the grants program.

“Essentially,” Stek said, “there is a big cut in the Bay Program.”

The EPA’s Bay Program Office is the focal point for coordinating the state-federal cleanup effort. It supports core Bay monitoring and modeling efforts, as well as Bay-related research, public outreach and state restoration activities.

Not all Bay-related offices would suffer cuts, though. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office would get $2.5 million, which includes $500,000 to develop multispecies management programs for fisheries — the greatest support given the office in a budget request.

The budget also seeks $850,000 for NOAA oyster restoration work in the Bay. That’s the same amount Congress provided last year, but it’s the first time an administration budget included the funding.

But the budget would cut oyster spending by the Corps of Engineers from $3 million to $1.5 million, and would eliminate $300,000 in Bay oyster money from the EPA budget.

Congressional aides in both parties said they expected Congress to restore money to Bay-related activities.

Meanwhile, funding for the National Park Service’s Bay Gateways Network would remain at $798,000, the same as this year.

One of the few new programs to get funding was $2.2 million for the Estuary Restoration Act, which would provide grants to groups working to restore estuarine habitats, such as wetlands, oyster reefs and underwater grass beds. But legislation creating the program, which was overwhelmingly approved last fall, called for spending $50 million this year.

“We’re going to ask for more,” said Cathy Bassett, an aide to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, sponsor of the bill.

Some national programs that affect Bay cleanup efforts are slated for elimination, while others would get boosts.

The Department of Agriculture’s Wetland Reserve Program, which got $162 million last year, was not funded in the budget proposal. Also, funding for the department’s Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, and its farmland preservation program, both of which are used in the watershed, would be eliminated.

But the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production and encourages the planting of stream buffers, would get $1.8 billion, a $132 million increase from this year. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, which administers the program, would get more money to provide technical support to landowners who want to participate in the CRP, which is a major tool used to control farm runoff in the Bay watershed.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money for federal, state and local land purchases and park improvements, would get $900 million. Half of that will go to states, the most ever.

But the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program and its Toxic Substances Hydrology Program would be cut by $30 million — a third of their total budget. Those monitoring efforts provide important water quality information to state and federal agencies — including the collection of water quality data for the Bay Program. The budget suggests that agencies using the information should pay more of the programs’ cost.

On sprawl issues, the budget would boost spending for the cleanup and redevelopment of abandoned urban industrial sites, so-called brownfields, by 6 percent, to $97.7 million. At the same time, the transportation budget proposes decreasing the federal match for new mass transit projects from 80 percent to 50 percent.

The EPA budget would cut support for other coastal programs as well, despite a spate of recent scientific reports warning about the decline of coastal waters.

The budget would cut Long Island Sound spending from $5 million to $477,000, Gulf of Mexico spending from $4.3 million to $4.2 million, and the National Estuaries Program from $18.2 million to $17 million.