The House has completed work on a "rescissions" bill that would cut more than $17 billion in spending, including millions of dollars for resource and environmental programs - some impacting the Bay - from the 1995 fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.
The cut could eliminate funding for a six-year, $6 million research project aimed at learning how multiple stresses - toxics, excess nutrients and low dissolved oxygen - affect the food chain and ultimately influences fish and shellfish production.
That project, which was to have begun March 1 at the Academy of Natural Science's Benedict Estuarine Research Center on the Patuxent River, had been approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Ocean Program. But that program is targeted for a $5 million rescission - half its budget for the current fiscal year.
The idea behind the Benedict research project, said James Sanders, director of the lab, is to move beyond trying to assess how a single compound impacts a particular species, and instead try to determine how a series of stresses act together to impact the entire food chain and ultimately the amount of commercially and recreationally valuable species that are produced.
The work would combine laboratory and field work with modeling to develop a tool that could predict - in both an ecological and economic sense - how the system would respond to various nutrient or toxics control strategies, Sanders said.
"Say, for example, we continue to reduce nutrient inputs and we see the Patuxent River begin to change some ecologically," he said. "What does that mean from an economic point of view?"
Other rescissions affecting resource agencies include $46 million in cuts for the National Park Service; $29 million from the U.S. Forest Service; $24 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; $11.5 million from the Bureau of Land Management; and $17 million from the National Biological Survey.
The Forest Service cuts include a $12.5 million reduction in its state and private forestry budget, including the Forest Legacy Program. That program, used in each of the Bay states, buys permanent easements for forest lands threatened with conversion.
The rescission package would also cut more than $44 million from EPA's budget, including nearly $15 million in research and development; $4.8 million in regulatory programs; and $25 million for buildings and facilities, including funds for the construction of an $11 million laboratory planned for EPA Region III, which includes the Bay states.
The largest environmental cut in the package is $1.3 billion from the EPA's state revolving fund, which helps finance drinking water treatment facility construction. The money is used to make grants and low-cost loans to communities that must upgrade treatment facilities to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Ironically, action to withhold the funds follows passage by Congress of "unfunded mandates" legislation. That legislation is intended to make it more difficult to require states and local governments to comply with such regulations unless the federal government provides money. The money has accumulated, unspent, for two years because Congress failed to reauthorize the act and the revolving fund. The reauthorization is expected to be passed this year, but some believe that stripping money from the revolving fund would reduce the pressure to act on the bill in 1995.
Cuts totaling more than $300 million were also slated for the Energy Department, including large cuts in solar and renewable energy research and for energy conservation efforts.
In addition, "riders" attached to the rescissions bill restrict the use of appropriated funds.
One rider would prohibit the EPA from enforcing requirements stemming from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments for centralized automobile inspection and maintenance testing in some smog-plagued areas, and block enforcement of programs that would require employers to promote car pooling and other measures to reduce driving in smog-prone areas.
Another would speed up salvage timber cutting on National Forest lands by waiving a range of environmental laws. The amendment calls for harvesting not less than 6 million board feet from National Forests over the next two years, and not less than 230 million board feet from Bureau of Land Management lands. The timber cuts called for would double the amount of timbering now planned for the nation's publicly owned forest lands.
The outlook for the package in the Senate is unclear, and the final bill could be vetoed by President Clinton who has opposed several cuts in the bill.