A $20 billion restoration plan for the Great Lakes - the nation's largest for a single ecosystem - was introduced in Congress yesterday.
To nobody's surprise, the two bills containing the plan were wholeheartedly endorsed by the region's congressional delegation, its mayors, and countless environmentalists. The question for opponents and supporters of the plan is whether there are enough votes in Congress to get it enacted as legislation.
The bills are an offshoot of a master plan called Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy that President Bush initiated with an executive order in May, 2004.
The bills stem from a document that is a veritable wish list of restoration work compiled over a year by 1,500 state, local, federal, and tribal leaders, as well as activists and industry representatives, in response to Mr. Bush's order.
One bill was submitted in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.). The other was submitted in the House by U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R., Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Illinois).
Jointly called the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, the two bills call for $23.5 billion in spending over five years, although $13 billion of it would be spread around the country on improving sewage and fighting invasive species in all 50 states.
That is because the act seeks to restore $200 million in cuts Mr. Bush has proposed for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the largest source of federal revenue for sewage projects. Those proposed cuts would take effect when the 2007 fiscal year budget begins on Oct. 1. They would come on the heels of a $360 million cut from that fund in fiscal 2006, more than 70 percent of the $500 million in cutbacks the federal EPA experienced this year from its $8.1 billion budget.
The two bills also seek reauthorization of the National Invasive Species Act. That act was originally co-authored in 1990 by former U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D., Ohio) to help stop zebra mussels from getting hauled into the Great Lakes in the ballast tanks of oceanic ships. One of that act's biggest roles now, if reauthorized, would be to help keep voracious Asian carp from getting into the lake system and destroying the region's valuable sport-fishing industry.
Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, said that $14 billion of the collaboration strategy's proposed $20 billion was to have been federal dollars. Most of the other $6 billion was to come from state, local, and private sources.
Mr. Buchsbaum, co-chairman of an ad hoc coalition of groups called Healing Our Waters, formed as a watchdog to oversee the government-led restoration plan, said he is pleased the two bills call for $10.5 billion of exclusive Great Lakes funding beyond that for sewage and invasive species issues. That's because one of the bigger requests - funds for Great Lakes wetlands restoration - has been shifted to a farm bill that will be handled separately, he said.
The Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors threw its support behind the bills.
"The manufacturing strength of the Great Lakes region is centered in our cities, and those cities are burdened with aging, poorly designed sewer systems that overflow. As a result, people are prevented from enjoying the beautiful beaches of the Great Lakes," said Gov. Bob Taft, who up until December had been the council's chairman. "I'm pleased to see these bills recognize the need for more, not less, federal funding to address the issue of sewer overflows," he said.
Sewage work is the bread-and-butter of the Great Lakes Collaboration Strategy, accounting for more than half of the $20 billion of restoration work that was identified.
Mr. Bush also has called for a $2 million cut from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's budget and more than $1 million from the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, although he has proposed $49.6 million for sediment cleanup next year. That is nearly the full amount for sediment cleanup allowed under the Great Lakes Legacy Act, and nearly double the amount Congress has allocated in a single year from that fund.
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