A Bush Administration spokesman said yesterday the White House has not backed off its commitment to help fund one of the most ambitious Great Lakes restoration plans drafted.
And she claimed it might not have been clear to everyone that the President never intended to have the federal government be the sole source of funding that could exceed $20 billion.
"It's important to know what this report is," Eryn Witcher, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said in reference to a Cabinet-level task force report sent to the White House yesterday. "It's a progress report."
The 73-page report by the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force was written by 10 agency and Cabinet officers who oversee more than 140 Great Lakes programs.
They also shadow a much broader group working on a report, due Dec. 20, that takes into account input from governmental partners at the state, local, and tribal levels, key Great Lakes organizations, and a variety of stakeholders. The latter began working as a collaborative team to identify priorities following a ceremony in Chicago in December, in which Mr. Bush's commitment to the lakes was hailed as historic.
The Associated Press earlier this month reported the Chicago Tribune had obtained an internal memo that said federal officials now have "serious concerns" with funding the broader master plan that was released for public discussion in July.
That same wording was found in the executive summary of yesterday's report, a copy of which was obtained by The Blade.
In the report's executive summary, the task force urged no new money for Great Lakes programs beyond what is currently budgeted. It also said Cabinet-level task force members do not endorse what they have seen so far from the broader collaborative effort.
U.S. EPA officials have told The Blade they have never come up with a cost estimate for doing everything that those participating in the broader effort have requested.
But environmental groups several months ago took it upon themselves to come up with their own figure, based on the amount of work they saw in the master plan. Their estimate was $20 billion over 15 years to fix problems, such as invasive species, toxic spills, and sewer overflows in the lakes, a figure which the U.S. EPA declines to characterize as accurate or inaccurate.
The National Wildlife Federation yesterday accused federal officials of "turning their backs" on the region - a stark departure from only a few weeks ago.
"Only President Bush can fix this misguided report from these federal agencies," Andy Buchsbaum, director of the group's Great Lakes center in Ann Arbor, said in regard to yesterday's report. "He needs to honor his commitment to the Great Lakes by acting to restore them."
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