Maryland Democrats and environmental groups said President Bush’s 2007 budget proposal will hinder Chesapeake Bay restoration goals, even with an apparent $4 million increase in Chesapeake Bay Program funding.

The president’s fiscal year 2007 budget proposes roughly $26 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which includes $6 million for a project on the Corsica River, a branch of the bay’s Chester River tributary. The president’s budget was released on Jan. 7 and outlines the administration’s funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

This is a jump from the $22 million enacted for the bay program in fiscal year 2006, but Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland, said proposed cuts to watershed grants and other programs would actually reduce overall bay funding by more than $20 million.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s section of 2007 budget proposal eliminates the Chesapeake Bay Small Watersheds Grant Program ($2 million enacted in FY 2006), the Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watersheds Program ($6 million in FY 2006) and direct grants for sewage treatment plants, according to figures from Sarbanes’ office. It also cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in Maryland by $4.8 million.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group is taking the cuts seriously, because the estuary is vital to Maryland and the nation’s economy and natural resources, said Staff Attorney Jennifer Bevan-Dangel.

“I think that the Chesapeake Bay is undervalued and underappreciated,” she said. “Just as we value the Great Lakes and Everglades, we should be receiving at least as much funding as those projects.”

The Chesapeake Bay may not be as exciting or well-known as other projects, she said, but has comparable tourism appeal and waterman resources such as crabs and oysters.

The president’s budget will move to the Congress, where budget committees will review the budget and offer amendments. The process is supposed to be completed by mid-April.

A spokeswoman for the EPA noted that the president’s budget focuses on “core agency programs” and does not, by rule, carry over congressionally mandated funds such as the $2 million for the Small Watershed Program.

“The presidential budget focuses on priorities as good stewards of funds and looks at current resources,” the EPA’s Eryn Witcher said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, criticized program cuts.

“The president’s proposal leaves us far short of the amount necessary to significantly improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” Hoyer said. “By eliminating or cutting a number of programs critical to Bay cleanup, the administration once again demonstrates its lack of commitment to the future of this national treasure.”

“As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will continue to work in Congress to restore this funding and fight for the additional federal dollars necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer’s Press Secretary Tim Schlittner said the congressman’s office excluded the high-profile Corsica River project in its budget evaluation, leaving the bay program with $20.4 million.