Bush Task Force Plan for Great Lakes Restoration is Good First Step, But Needs Funding, Says Great Lakes Coalition

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   July 7, 2005
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA, 202-454-3332


Bush Task Force Plan for Great Lakes Restoration is Good First Step, But Needs Funding, Says Great Lakes Coalition

DULUTH, Minn. - A national and regional coalition of restoration-minded groups today warned that the forthcoming plan from President Bush’s Great Lakes task force would languish without sufficient funding from the administration, Congress, and state governments.

“This plan is a good first step toward comprehensive restoration of the Great Lakes,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our WatersSM (HOW) Great Lakes Coalition. “But it is only one step, and it will go nowhere unless it leads to state and federal funding, and inspires better government policies that enable Americans to once again safely enjoy our Great Lakes.”

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a task force appointed in December 2004 by President Bush to develop a blueprint for restoring the Great Lakes, is expected to release their draft plan on Thursday. The draft plan is the first ever to match comprehensive Great Lakes restoration policies with detailed funding recommendations. Even more noteworthy, the plan is supported by a broad consensus of federal agencies, state and tribal governments, cities, and representatives from business, agriculture, and conservation and environmental organizations.

The plan will make approximately forty recommendations to address disappearing wetlands, closed beaches, unhealthy fish, and toxic pollution, including:

·Restoration of 550,000 acres of wetlands and 1 million acres of streamside buffers;
·$13.7 billion to modernize municipal sewers to stop the overflow of raw sewage into the Great Lakes system;
·New federal laws to stop aquatic invasive species from entering the lakes; and
·Cleanup of toxic hotspots over 15 years at a cost of $2.25 billion.

The total 5-year price-tag for the plan is approximately $20 billion, with $13.6 billion from federal sources and the remainder from state and local budgets.

“If it is funded, the Collaboration’s draft plan will make critical progress toward our goal of restoring balance to the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, and co-chair of the HOW Great Lakes Coalition. “Cleaning up raw sewage and toxic hotspots, and restoring habitat is not cheap, but there’s no alternative: Our economy, our environment, and our way of life depend on it.”

Legislation pending in Congress calls for $4 billion to $6 billion to restore the Great Lakes.

HOW Coalition member George Meyer of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation said that the plan only accounts for a portion of the reforms that are needed, noting the absence in the plan of several policies necessary to bring the Great Lakes back to health, including greater protection of wetlands and stronger curbs on mercury emissions from power plants.

“These measures, though controversial, are just as important as money to healing the Lakes,” he said. “They should be added to the plan or enacted independently by federal and state governments.”

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration is lead by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The release of their draft plan launches a 60-day public comment period, including a series of public hearings that the EPA will conduct in the region.

“The public hearings are critical to the Collaboration process,” said Reg Gilbert, Restoration Coordinator at Great Lakes United. “The lakes belong to all of us, and the general public deserves to have a say in how we protect our drinking water, our beaches, and our fish. We encourage everyone who has a stake in the lakes to get involved this summer.”

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration is slated to approve a final plan to restore and protect the Great Lakes by the end of the year.

The Great Lakes comprise almost 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water and supply drinking water to more than 40 million U.S. and Canadian residents. The Great Lakes also support local agriculture; a diversity of wildlife, including a world-class fishery; maritime trade; industry; and tourism.

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