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Published: Friday, 5/15/2009

Congress pushed to OK Great Lakes aid

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Representatives of Great Lakes industry, environment, government, and policy groups yesterday called on Congress to approve President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget plan because it contains a provision to set aside $475 million to restore the lakes, collectively the world's largest source of fresh surface water.

The breakdown would include $146 million for removing toxic sediment from tributaries and harbors polluted enough to be listed as "areas of concern"; $105 million to protect wildlife and their habitat; $97 million for near-shore health and pollution prevention that could, among other things, improve beaches; $65 million to evaluate and monitor overall progress, and $60 million to stave off the influx of exotic species.

George Kuper, president and chief executive officer of the Council of Great Lakes Industries, told reporters that efforts to restore the lakes could be derailed if Mr. Obama's first budget request gets a lukewarm response.

"I think the politics could get worse," he said.

"We think it would be tougher to achieve [Great Lakes restoration funding] later than it is today," he said.

Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Chicago-based Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, called it "the right medicine for the economy and for the Great Lakes, as well."

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan, also a member of the Great Lakes Commission, which coordinates policy matters for the eight Great Lakes states, called the proposed budget "a giant step forward in a multiyear effort to restore the lakes, create jobs, and stimulate economic development."

"We are ready to produce real, on-the-ground improvements to our environment and our economy," he said.

In addition to the $475 million, the region also stands to get $870 million of the $3.4 billion proposed for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the government's fund for sewage programs.

Sewage was ranked the Great Lakes region's No. 1 need in a 2005 inventory that remains its most comprehensive to date.

Mr. Obama's $787 billion stimulus package committed $4 billion to the federal EPA's sewage fund, plus another $2 billion for programs aimed at improving the nation's drinking water.

The Bush administration reduced funding for the national sewage account over eight years, calling for it to be funded at $555 million a year ago.

Congress ultimately bumped the level up to $689 million.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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