Virginia Gov.-elect James Gilmore says that he will be "the primary steward of the Chesapeake Bay" in Virginia, and that by the time he leaves office, the state will have reversed its "progressive loss" of wetlands.

Gilmore, a Republican who triumphed in the state's Nov. 4 election, will become the newest member of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the policy-making body that guides the Bay restoration effort. Though the environment was not a major theme in the election, both Gilmore and his Democratic opponent, Donald Beyer, appeared before the Virginia Environmental Assembly in October to discuss environmental policy.

As governor, Gilmore told the audience that his top environmental objectives were "an unwavering commitment to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, a comprehensive set of plans for pollution prevention, and a partnership with local governments to control the harmful effects of urban sprawl."

Gilmore said he would take responsibility for implementing Virginia's tributary strategy for reducing nutrient pollution in the Potomac River, which was completed this year, and that he agreed the state should help finance implementing the strategy.

Gilmore said local governments should be given the authority to exempt wetlands and stream buffers from property taxes. He said he would also promote the use of conservation easements by local governments as part of an effort to contain urban sprawl.

Saying Virginia needs a voluntary goal of "zero discharge into the environment," Gilmore said he planned to expand staffing in the Department of Environmental Quality's pollution prevention office from three to "at least" 10.

He promised that when he left office, "Virginia will have more net acres of wetlands ... than it does today," though he did not outline a specific program to accomplish that.

Gilmore said he would "work to control air pollution in the Chesapeake Bay airshed." But when asked whether he supported the EPA's new standards for ozone and particulates, which would force additional reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions, he did not take a position, saying only that he would "hold the EPA" to its commitment "to a flexible common sense and cost-effective implementation plan."

He said he would not support mandatory regulations on farmers to control nutrient runoff "unless we find that the voluntary procedures are not working." But he said he supported a study to determine whether intensive, large-scale animal operations should be held to a different standard than small family farms.

Gilmore also said the state DEQ "needs a period of stability." Since its creation in 1993, the agency has gone through a series of reorganizations which critics say have hurt its effectiveness, cut employee morale and caused the departure of many senior officials.

Gilmore declined to say who he would name to top environmental positions.

During the summer, as polls showed Gilmore and Beyer in a dead heat, Gilmore pledged that he would replace Natural Resources Secretary Becky Norton Dunlop, who had been a lightning rod for criticism by environmentalists who charged she was weakening environmental programs in the state.

The move was seen as an attempt to distance himself from the environmental policies of Gov. George Allen. But after the statement was criticized by conservatives within the party, among whom Dunlop is particularly popular, Gilmore quickly said that he had no serious policy differences with the Allen administration.

As attorney general, several of Gilmore's actions were criticized by environmentalists, including his losing argument in federal court that sought to restrict the ability of citizens to sue over certain environmental issues. Critics also charged that he only filed suit against Smithfield Foods, charged with seriously polluting a Bay tributary, after it became clear that the EPA was going to take action.

But Gilmore noted that as attorney general, he helped to secure large fines from several major polluters, including the 1993 Colonial Pipeline spill into a Potomac River tributary, the Avtek Superfund site in Front Royal and a coal slurry spill in the southwest corner of the state. Penalties in each of those cases exceeded $1 million.