Bills renew call to fund Great Lakes work


WASHINGTON - The Great Lakes region's congressional delegation yesterday renewed its call for more than $20 billion of Great Lakes projects to be funded, a pair of restoration bills that - if ever approved - would be unprecedented for the region and for the nation.

To date, no single ecosystem has been authorized more money than the $8 billion that was authorized for the Florida Everglades in 2000.

But the region's congressional delegation, inspired in part by the new faces in Congress, yesterday reintroduced the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act in both chambers - the highlight of its annual "Great Lakes Day" at the Capitol.

U.S. Sens. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and George Voinovich (R., Ohio), co-chairmen of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, were the prime sponsors in the Senate.

Mr. Levin said the bills would unite the region on a "cohesive strategy," while Mr. Voinovich said they send "a clear message to the country that we are committed to restoring the Great Lakes and protecting them from further deterioration."

The House version was reintroduced by U.S. Reps. Vern Ehlers (R., Mich.) and Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.).

Predictably, numerous groups with a vested interest in the lakes weighed in with their support.

Kristy Meyer, Ohio Environmental Council Lake Erie program director, said lake problems will only worsen with more delays. "The time to act is now," she said.

Larry Mitchell, president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen, said the lakes need to be restored "for the millions of people who depend on them for a place to recreate and reconnect with nature" as well as to help stabilize the region's economy.

Others speaking in favor of the bills included Jeff Skelding, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, and Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association and the coalition's co-chairman.

Healing Our Waters is a consortium of some 90 zoos, aquariums, museums, and hunting, fishing, and environmental groups. More than 200 of its members were in Washington for the event.

A March 2 letter signed by the region's eight governors, including Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, also urges passage of the bills.

The bills call for Congress to implement the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy that President Bush initiated with an executive order in May, 2004.

They stem from a document that is a veritable wish list of restoration work compiled over a year by 1,500 local, state, federal, and tribal leaders as well as activists and industry representatives in response to Mr. Bush's order.

But the administration has balked at efforts to provide anywhere near the funding it would take to do the work.

More than half of the projects identified pertain to sewage.

Mr. Bush has for years recommended a succession of cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which is used to help finance local sewage projects.