Regardless of where we call home, the famous conservationist John Muir observed more than a century ago, “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
This week I saw both the epitome of this quote and a sharp diversion from it.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of joining local officials for the groundbreaking ceremony to mark the demolition of a cement rail bridge over the Four Mile Run stream, which stretches along the border of Arlington and Alexandria. In 1975, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a flood control project on the lower portion of Four Mile Run, reducing the impact that flooding was having along this stretch of the waterway. Unfortunately, the project focused on converting a natural meandering stream into a cement basin that flushed most of the aquatic life and vegetation with every heavy rainfall.
To return the stream to its natural state, Arlington and Alexandria officials joined together in 2006 to adopt a comprehensive master plan to restore Four Mile Run. The plan envisions allowing the cement channel to fill in with sediment and the stream to return to a more natural course with earthen berms outside the channel to protect the community against floods.
As Ranking Member of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, I was able to secure $9 million in federal funds for this project.
The demolition of the abandoned rail bridge is an important milestone in realizing the Four Mile Run Restoration Plan. Once completed, this space will include park land, trails, stream access, and new recreational and cultural facilities. Each of these new features has been designed to maintain the essential flood protection promised and provided by the flood control project, while restoring other environmental and recreational uses of the stream.
While Northern Virginia is making progress to reclaim green spaces and parks in our region, Republicans in Congress are doing just the opposite, pushing to cripple environmental and conservation programs through the Fiscal Year 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill.
This bill represents a sharp departure from the bipartisan bills introduced in years past. The entire funding allocation is 19 percent lower than last year, a massive cut. EPA’s budget is reduced by more than one-third, on top of a 20 percent cut the agency has had to absorb since FY 2010. Further, it zeroes out funding for critical programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and cripples the National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities by slashing their budgets in half. The only solace we can take regarding this awful bill is the assurance that the Senate and President Obama will never allow it to become law in its present form.
It would serve Republicans in Congress well to look across the Potomac at the example Northern Virginia sets for their vision of environmental preservation. Until that day comes, I will continue to fight anti-environment legislation and budgeting being considered in the House.