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Great Lakes Article:

Leaders agree to work together on Great Lakes cleanup; some want more funds
Associated Press
Published December 3rd, 2004


CHICAGO (AP) -- Dozens of government and tribal leaders promised Friday to join forces in protecting and preserving the Great Lakes from pollution, invasive species and other environmental dangers, but some participants say more money and a clear action plan still are needed.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said there have been eight studies done recently on how to cleanup and protect the Great Lakes.

"We must be sure that this initiative is not simply No. 9. It's time for action," she said.

The gathering, where participants signed a declaration of support for cleaning up the Great Lakes, was prompted by an executive order issued in May by President Bush. He named a 10-member Cabinet-level task force, chaired by Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Leavitt, to coordinate Great Lakes cleanup efforts among states, federal agencies and Canada.

The General Accounting Office found last year that 33 federal and 17 state programs have spent more than $1.7 billion on the environmental restoration of the Great Lakes. However, the efforts were uncoordinated and the results were difficult to measure, the GAO said.

"For the first time, we'll demonstrate to the Congress and the nation that the Great Lakes community speaks with one voice. For the first time, we will make the restoration of the Great Lakes a national priority," said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was pleased that, after significant lobbying by the Great Lakes governors, Congress last month provided $2 million for the completion of Asian carp barriers in the Chicago River.

However, she expressed concern about recent federal funding decisions, including a cut in the federal Clean Water State Revolving Loan (SRF) funding that will cost states in the Great Lakes region as much as $88 million to stop sewer overflows.

"Restoring our Great Lakes will require an intense level of commitment from everyone with a stake in the basins future," said Granholm, who attended the conference.

"We welcome the prospect of a stronger partnership with the federal government and hope it will include better federal coordination and more federal money. Americas Great Lakes deserve at least as much help from Washington as the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay."

Leavitt said protecting and improving the Great Lakes ecosystem is challenging, and collaboration among states and local leaders is "messy."

"But there's absolutely no substitute," he said.

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said he supports working together if it is backed with a funding commitment from Congress. He also stressed that action needs to be taken soon to reduce environmental threats to the Great Lakes.

"The question will be whether this year will be remembered as the year in which we speed up the cleanup, and that should be our goal" he said.

Leavitt said the issue is not just about getting more money, but also involves using existing resources better.

"There is no question that this will require resources. This is not simply, however, coming up with a list and a price tag. This is about learning to do with what we have, whatever it is, and to use it in the best possible way," he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said the Great Lakes and states surrounding them face several challenges. Contaminated sediment leach pollutants, beach access is restricted when water quality is poor and exotic and invasive species, such as Asian carp, threaten the Great Lakes' health.

"These are not one state's issues or one agency's issues. These are regional and national issues of great significance. This is not something government can do alone," Doyle said.

"Today we start on a new path to establish our legacy of environmental stewardship," he said.

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