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In New Post, Dicks Will Keep His Eye On Environment

 As chairman of a key congressional subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks has boosted federal funding to restore Northwest salmon runs, national forests and national parks.

The Belfair congressman has always been keenly interested in Puget Sound and Hood Canal. His position the past three years allowed him to hike spending until Washington’s waterways were on par with Chesapeake Bay — a longtime beneficiary of federal largesse.

Dicks is now days away from giving up his chairmanship of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, where he has made bold spending moves. Are environmental advocates worried that environmental funding might dry up?

“Initially, I was kind of depressed about it,” said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society’s Seattle office. “But the more I’m hearing about this, the more I realize that he will continue to have a lot to say about the Forest Service budget and water restoration work in particular.”

Anderson’s views reflect those of other environmentalists. Some say Dicks’ new job as chairman of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will bring him more political power. While giving up his environmental chairmanship, Dicks will remain a key leader of that committee, and could wield extra clout on an even more powerful committee.

The sudden switch in positions results from the death of Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who took charge of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee when the Democrats took control of the House in 2007.

Murtha, said David Stout of the New York Times, “was alternately respected and feared by his colleagues on Capitol Hill as he used his influence to funnel hundreds of millions of federal dollars into his hard-luck district...”

Dicks has not yet been named to replace Murtha, but political insiders say his selection is all but assured.

Dicks is likely to be replaced on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee by Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat who says protecting the environment is one of his top issues. Dicks has worked alongside Moran for many years.

Until new appointments are final, Dicks will chair two committees at the same time, something that could prove stressful with today’s critical budget issues, said Dicks’ aide George Behan.

On Wednesday morning, Dicks is scheduled to head up a hearing in his new committee, where requirements for combat aircraft will be discussed. That afternoon, in his old committee, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency will lay out the agency’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

On Thursday, Dicks will convene a budget hearing with the chief of the U.S. Forest Service. That afternoon, the topic will be the mass killing at Fort Hood in Texas, where military procedures are under close scrutiny.

Behan said Dicks will continue to focus on environmental issues in Washington state. But, after he is relieved of the chairmanship, he won’t need to pay as much attention to environmental issues in other parts of the country.

Bill Ruckelshaus, chairman of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, said Dicks was dedicated to Puget Sound restoration long before he moved into key positions in Congress.

“I’ve been there when the Republicans were in control,” Ruckelshaus said. “Norm would go into the chairman’s office and tell him what needs to be done. His concern for Puget Sound is so intense that I can’t imagine it will diminish even when he leaves Congress.”

Because the Department of Defense is so important for Washington state, it is vital that he switch posts, Ruckleshaus said. “He is ready for that assignment.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, said the Defense appropriations post will be a more powerful position and allow him to exert “tremendous influence over the things he cares about.”

“Far be it for me to say he will be anything like Rep. Murtha,” Fletcher said, “but when you chair the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, you can do a lot to make or break projects that your members want.”

As a member and later chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Dicks was an important player in establishing the Legacy Roads Program to repair failing roads that are damaging streams in the national forests. That funding has gone from $40 million to $90 million nationwide in a few years, and the Skokomish watershed above Hood Canal will benefit from $2.7 million this year alone.

 Because of forest fire problems, Dicks helped establish a dedicated fund to fight fires — an effort to avoid raids on other parts of the Forest Service budget in times of trouble.

Money for salmon recovery has gone from $50 million to $80 million under his watch. In addition, Dicks has helped secure money every year for removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Olympic Peninsula. Removal is scheduled for next year at a cost of more than $300 million.

Funding for Puget Sound in the EPA’s budget has risen from $20 million to $50 million since Dicks became chairman. He also has increased overall spending for maintenance in the national parks.

President Obama’s recently released budget for 2011 includes reductions in many of those programs — but Dicks recently pledged to do his best to keep them all at current levels.

Read more: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/feb/19/in-new-post-dicks-will-keep-his-eye-on/#ixzz0gEQEstEU