WASHINGTON - A federal law that has been used since 1990 to secure millions of dollars for fish and wildlife habitat in the Great Lakes region was on the verge of being reauthorized last night at twice the previous funding cap.
The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act of 2006, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio), could bring the region up to $16 million a year for such projects if the latest House version is approved.
That version would set the cap at $4 million less than the version that was previously approved in the Senate, which had authorized up to $20 million a year. But sportsmen and environmentalists would be thrilled with either, said Gildo Tori, spokesman for the Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.
The previous cap on funding was $8 million a year, although the full amount was never allocated.
Mr. Tori said Mr. DeWine especially deserved credit for getting the House to consider a substantial increase. House rules limit budget increases to 10 percent without a special vote. That would have meant no more than a $800,000 increase over the previous $8 million cap, Mr. Tori said.
"It's very encouraging. It's double," he said.
Mr. DeWine said in a recent speech that the act is vital for protecting more than 140 fish species and 500 species of migratory birds in the basin, many of which are rare.
Jordan Lubetkin, spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, confirmed yesterday that $16 million was the latest House version.
Both expected the Senate to pass accompanying legislation and for the act to go to Mr. Bush this afternoon if the House followed through with its expected vote last night.
Several officials who attended last weekend's second annual Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition in Cleveland have said that any substantial increase would be a glimmer of hope for the much bigger prize: A $20 billion Great Lakes cleanup bill, the largest of its kind in the nation's history.
The latter stemmed from a priority-setting exercise instituted by the Bush Administration that involved 1,500 people and lasted more than a year. The administration then balked at requests for new funding because of financial constraints caused by Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq.
The coalition is a consortium of 90 zoos; museums; aquariums; hunter, angler, and conservation groups; with representation from some government officials.
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