Maryland, Virginia officials reach pollution agreement

Maryland and Virginia officials have agreed that proposed mandatory restrictions on driving, lawn mowing and boating in an effort to reduce air pollution in the Washington area will be made voluntary instead.

The tentative compromise resolves, for the time-being, a bitter fight among officials in suburban Maryland and Virginia over a consensus plan required to comply with federal clean air standards.

The Washington region is required to reduce emissions that cause smog by 15 percent by 1996. Smog hinders breathing, irritates the eyes and may cause permanent lung damage. Summertime car exhaust is the chief cause of smog in the area.

The regional plan is expected to include tougher car inspections, require vapor-trapping nozzles at gasoline stations, and place tighter controls on pollution from small businesses.

But environmentalists have attacked the compromise and warned that tougher, mandatory controls will be needed this year when the region must approve a plan to further reduce pollution by 1999. “There’s a reluctance in this plan to make any hard choices,” said Jim Clarke of the Montgomery County, Md., Sierra Club.

Montgomery and Prince George’s county officials and Maryland environmental officials had originally insisted that the plan also require large employers to discourage their employees from driving to work alone by offering incentives for use of car pools or public transit.

But Fairfax County, Va., officials organized a revolt against that regulation. Fairfax officials and business groups said mass transit is not a realistic option for everyone and that the rule would be costly to employers recovering from an economic slump.

Bans on lawn mowing and recreational boating on smoggy days were favored by some Virginia officials, but Maryland and federal officials objected, saying the provisions could not be enforced.

Disagreements among suburban officials over the two issues became so heated last summer that some said each jurisdiction might write a separate plan to submit for federal approval.

But talks yielded a tentative compromise making both measures voluntary. Under the revised proposal, the governments would assist employers to devise car-pooling plans and urge people to curtail mowing or boating on polluted days.

Even without the mandatory measures, officials said the clean-air plan will meet the 15 percent target. “We’re not ruling out mandatory measures, but it’s probably not the right time now,” said Merrylin Zaw-Mon, Maryland’s top air pollution official.

Allen names secretary for VA. natural resources

Virginia Gov.-elect George F. Allen has nominated Becky Norton Dunlop of Arlington as his secretary of Natural Resources. She would replace Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s natural resources secretary, Elizabeth Haskell.

Dunlop, 42, is president of Century Communications Co., a management and communications consulting firm in Arlington. Dunlop was an assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks as well as deputy undersecretary in the Department of the Interior under President Reagan. She also served in several other positions during the Reagan administration, including senior special assistant to the attorney general in the Department of Justice, and deputy assistant to the president.

Allen announced his nomination of Dunlop at the same time he nominated Robert T. Skunda, past president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, as his secretary of economic development.

At a news conference announcing the two nominations, Allen said he wanted to create a business climate in the state that would create 125,000 jobs during his administration. “Concern for the environment should not come at the expense of people, their property, and jobs,” Allen said.

Dunlop responded by saying, “ I share your conviction that our most important natural resources are the people of this great commonwealth … it is a well-documented fact that a growing economy results in an improving environment. I want to help ensure that individuals and families have the wherewithal and opportunities to better the environment in which we live.”

As secretary, Dunlop would oversee the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Marine Resources Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

PA handbooks to aid contaminated site cleanup

Handbooks outlining state environmental regulations are being distributed to prospective companies that are considering moves into abandoned industrial sites, officials said.

State lawmakers have encouraged companies to use existing industrial sites for their business, but many are worried about being stuck with cleaning up contamination left behind by previous owners.

The Department of Environmental Resources is handing out booklets explaining procedures needed to get the sites cleaned up. “Now they’ll know what they’re up against,” DER Secretary Arthur Davis said Wednesday.

Most of the 15,000 abandoned industrial sites scattered across Pennsylvania were founded in the 1920s before state environmental laws were enacted. Many are located near highways, rivers and railroads but have since closed and were left with contaminated soil and water.

The state House in October passed two bills that would loosen liability for new companies willing to move into the old sites. The companies would not be responsible for contamination that existed before they relocated or started business. The bills are pending in the Senate.

Baltimore gets $1 million environment grant

The city has been awarded $1.1 million in federal grants for environmental projects to restore degraded parks and streams and prevent lead poisoning.

Nearly half the money will go for an “urban forestry” program in which up to 60 inner-city youngsters will get training in tree care and park maintenance while being encouraged to pursue environmental careers. The program is part of Yale University’s urban resource initiative, according to Jackie Carrera, director of the Parks and People Foundation, which oversees the program.

The city and foundation also will work with communities to turn trash-strewn vacant lots into gardens. The effort may help fill the gap left by recent cuts in federal funds for an urban gardening effort run by the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension Service.

About $300,000 will be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a study of environmental problems in Baltimore’s streams.

Governors sign agreement on Potomac North Branch

West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer have approved a joint effort to improve water quality and recreation on the North Branch of the Potomac River.

An agreement signed by the governors forms a task force to oversee the project, said Phyllis Cole of Petersburg, W.V., chairwoman of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, which will oversee the panel.

The North Branch forms the border between West Virginia and Maryland for about 60 miles. Years of acid mine drainage and industrial and residential pollution dirtied the waters and killed off trout, members of the Rockville, Md.-based basin commission said.

“This tributary of the Potomac had been written off as unreclaimable,” Cole said.

“The river was just a total disaster,” said Herb Sachs of Annapolis, Md., the commission’s executive director. He said in recent years, “people would have been afraid to stick a toe in it.”

But the construction of Jennings Randolph Dam and a nearby trout hatchery near Piedmont, W.Va., and improved waste treatment and pollution control by both states have helped restore trout along 10 miles of the river south of the dam, Cole said.

“It’s a place of real exceptional beauty” with “far-reaching recreational potential,” Caperton said. “It is my hope we can breathe new life into this stream.”

Disney executives, foes at odds over park

Developers and environmentalists are battling over plans for a new Disney theme park near Haymarket in Northern Virginia, where the company has options to buy about 2,000 acres of land. The park would focus on American history.

The Piedmont Environmental Council launched a “Take Another Look” campaign to urge Disney and government leaders to reconsider plans for the park called Disney’s America. The group said western Prince William is not the best location for the park.

The Disney park “sucks sprawl to the Blue Ridge,” said Robert T. Dennis, president of the council. Disney would deplete water supplies, increase traffic congestion and increase demand for schools and other local services.

The group is waging an advertising campaign to stir up opposition to the park, which has largely been welcomed by state and local leaders.

Meanwhile, Bob Shinn, senior vice president of Disney Development, said that “We want to listen to the residents of Prince William County and northern Virginia. We want to understand the issues. We want to understand the concerns.”

Shinn said the park will not create huge traffic jams because its visitors will be traveling at off-peak hours and against the flow of Washington commuters. He said Disney expects taxpayers to pay for the highway and other improvements as part of a “public-private partnership.”

The park will produce $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues over 30 years, he said. “We need to utilize a fraction of that to make these key infrastructure things happen upfront,” he said.