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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Bush budget may sink Great Lakes plan

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

President Bush's proposed budget cuts have some people wondering if his administration's master plan for restoring the Great Lakes is sunk less than two months after it was adopted.

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, a $20 billion set of priorities with no new sources of federal funding to do the work, was once called little more than a public relations stunt by U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) before it was finalized in Chicago on Dec. 12.

Yesterday, attention turned to Mr. Bush's proposal to cut nearly $200 million more from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund during the 2007 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

That fund is the main source of federal money that states use to help municipalities finance sewer projects. And sewer projects are the biggest component of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.

It's the second consecutive year that national sewage fund could get whacked. In the current budget, it was reduced by $360 million and accounted for the majority of the half-billion cut from the federal EPA's $8.1 billion budget.

The lakes are affected by two other proposed cuts: Some $2 million from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which helps combat exotic species, and more than $1 million from the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, which administers programs.

"You judge these things not by what somebody says about them, but what the facts are," Mr. Dingell told The Blade in an interview yesterday, one in which he said he met with U.S. EPA Admministrator Steve Johnson on Dec. 7 and "chewed him out thoroughly" for going along with the no new funding plan for the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.

The strategy's $20 billion set of priorities stemmed from a process that involved more than 1,500 public officials, tribal leaders, business representatives, environmental activists, and citizen groups who met for more than a year.

On Oct. 28, a task force of senior White House officials recommended no new spending. Some national groups that went along with it, such as the National Wildlife Federation, are now seething about the proposed budget cutbacks.

"The President is ignoring the plan his own presidential task force put forth in December," said Jordan Lubetkin, spokesman for the group's Great Lakes regional office in Ann Arbor. "Quite frankly, the budget is a betrayal of trust," he said, explaining that his group had supported it in "good faith."

The White House, in its online analysis posted on its Web site, said the President's budget "continues to support state and tribal efforts to improve water quality through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund," even with less money budgeted.

Linda Oros, Ohio EPA spokesman, said the state agency was not immediately sure how much Ohio would be affected if the proposed cuts go through. Last year's cuts caused Ohio's share of its federal sewage fund to drop almost in half, from $76 million to $40.3 million.

That hasn't hit home yet in Toledo, where the city is in the midst of its historic $450 million sewer project.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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