Funding Tight for Great Lakes Plan

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

CHICAGO, Dec. 12 -- The Bush administration on Monday announced a comprehensive strategy to restore and protect the Great Lakes, winning positive reviews for the concept but criticism about uncertain funding.

The long-awaited document is the product of discussions among a wide array of government and outside groups. It calls for fighting invasive species and restoring coastal wetlands, as well as curbing agricultural runoff and improving drinking water.

"This is not a publicity stunt," said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D). "It's an exciting time. You shouldn't be cynical about this."

Despite ambitious plans that could cost $20 billion over the next 15 years, the Bush administration has made it clear that money for the project will be severely constrained by other budgetary needs. Environmentalists and politicians from both parties have openly questioned the White House commitment.

Seeking a more modest infusion up front, Daley joined Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) to ask President Bush for $300 million for short-term priorities. They sent their letter Monday.

Despite the disappointment of some politicians and advocates at the administration's decision not to seek more funding, Environmental Protection Agency officials made several specific promises.

Among them are $25 million for cleaning up contaminated sediment on the Ashtabula River in Ohio, a tributary to Lake Erie, matching a $7 million state contribution and $18 million from industry groups.

"We've been waiting for that for a long time," Taft said.

The EPA also confirmed that the electrical barrier blocking invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes via the Mississippi River will be made permanent. The agency also intends to expedite restoration and water quality projects in the Great Lakes basin.

The strategy, known as the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, resulted from a pledge for action from Bush -- one that was met with skepticism by environmentalists who believe the needs are well known and many likely solutions are clear.

In a process that lasted a year, as many as 1,500 people met or offered substantive comments. Participants came from all levels of government, as well as Native American groups and business, recreation and environmental interests.

"It's clear the Rust Belt economy won't carry the region through the 21st century," said Emily Green, director of the Sierra Club's Great Lakes program. "Why not switch to a water belt? We're blessed with the Great Lakes, and we have the responsibility to be stewards of them."

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