Congress Holds Hearing on $20 Billion Great Lakes Restoration Plan

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   March 16, 2006
Contact:  

Andrea Keller Helsel, National Parks Conservation Association--(202) 454-3332
Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation--(734)-904-1589



Congress Holds Hearing on $20 Billion Great Lakes Restoration Plan

Conservationists Urge Action: Just as Bridges and Roads Crumble Without Adequate Investment, So Are the Great Lakes Deteriorating?

At a Congressional hearing on the implementation of a $20 billion plan to restore the Great Lakes, conservationists urged elected officials to clean up the lakes without delay.

Just as bridges and roads crumble without adequate investment, so are the Great Lakes deteriorating, said Andy Buchsbaum, center director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office, in his written testimony. The longer the wait, the more expensive the investment will be and the more we will lose because of the delay. On the other hand, if we act now, the Great Lakes will return to health, bringing with them jobs, recreation, tax revenues, wildlife, and the future of an entire region.

Buchsbaum testified on behalf of the national Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, made up of more than 85 organizations, which collectively represent millions of anglers, hunters, bird-watchers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Following the hearing, more than 100 coalition members were to gather on the grounds of the Capitol at a rally for the Great Lakes.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, chaired by Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, examined the implementation of a $20 billion Great Lakes clean-up plan that calls for stopping sewage contamination; restoring wetlands; cleaning up pollution; and preventing aquatic invasive species like the Asian carp from entering the lakes.

That plan, said Buchsbaum, is the most comprehensive Great Lakes restoration and protection plan in history. It documents virtually all of the problems besetting the Great Lakes; it recommends concrete solutions; it identifies programs to implement those solutions; and it recommends the funding needed for those programs to succeed.

Buchsbaum urged Congress to:

Draft and enact legislation that includes major portions of the $20 billion plan;

Pass the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act to prevent new aquatic species from entering the lakes and disrupting the ecosystem;

Increase funding this year for major recommendations of the plan; and,

Fund the electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep the non-native Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

The hearing follows the release of President Bush's budget, which cut funding to many Great Lakes programs and ignored key recommendations of the $20 billion plan which was submitted by the president's own presidential task force.

The hearing comes as the movement to restore the lakes gains momentum nationally. In Buchsbaum's testimony, leaders of initiatives to restore the Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Louisiana, and other ecosystems encouraged federal officials to act to restore the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes are national icons, a beautiful natural treasure you can see even from space,?said Tom Keirnan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition. Like the majestic Grand Canyon and Everglades, these inland oceans help define the soul of a region and the landscape of a nation.

Mark Davis, director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, added: The Great Lakes are of national importance. If we can't save Coastal Louisiana, we can't save the Great Lakes, and vice versa. It can't be that we have to choose one place over another, or we'll be set up to fail everywhere. The consequences to the nation of inaction or delay are enormous. We cannot afford to wait, either here in Coastal Louisiana or in the Great Lakes.

Buchsbaum underscored the urgent need to restore the lakes, referring to a paper released in December and signed by more than 60 scientists in the region, which warned that the Great Lakes are losing their natural ability to heal themselves due to a combination of stressors, including habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and sewage overflows. If this trend is not reversed, the scientists wrote, the Great Lakes will suffer from irreversible damage.

The bottom line is this, said Buchsbaum, Taking a substantial investment in the Great Lakes now will earn a significant economic and ecological return for the region and the nation. Delaying that investment will make future actions far more costly, and likely will result in irreversible damage to this national and global treasure.

Other people testifying today included U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Carl Levin (D-Michigan); Ohio Gov. Robert Taft; U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson; Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik from the Little Travers Bay Bands of Odawa Indians; David Ullrich, director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative; and George Kuper, president of the Council of Great Lakes Industries.

The Great Lakes comprise almost 95 percent of the nation's surface fresh water and supply drinking water to more than 25 million U.S. and Canadian residents. There are eighteen national parks in or near the Great Lakes watershed. The Great Lakes also support a diversity of wildlife, including a world-class fishery, maritime trade, industry, and agriculture.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation's natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization protecting wildlife for our children's future.

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