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Great Lakes need restoration
By U.S. Reps. Peter Hoekstra and Rahm Emanuel
Detroit News

Lake effect snow aside, this time of year the Great Lakes do not receive all that much attention. But for those of us working to pass landmark Great Lakes environmental restoration legislation, they never lose our focus.

More than 30 years after the Clean Water Act was passed, invasive species, toxic contamination and pollution run-off continue to dampen the prognosis for the Great Lakes. Still, 2003 represented an outstanding year. In July, we introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act of 2003 with a broad bipartisan coalition.

The legislation authorizes $4 billion in block grants over five years to invest in cleaning up toxic hot spots, combating invasive species, controlling nonpoint source pollution and restoring and conserving wetlands and critical coastal habitat. The funding would be allocated using a formula that takes into account criteria such as population, exposure to the Great Lakes watershed, number of "areas of concern" and critical habitat.

It also creates a Great Lakes advisory board of federal representatives, governors, mayors and leaders in the scientific and environmental communities that would develop a comprehensive Great Lakes management plan.

The same day that we introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act in the House, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

Today more than 105 members in the House and eight senators have co-sponsored the two pieces of legislation. All eight governors from states bordering the Great Lakes have endorsed the plan, and the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, a consortium of mayors from towns along the Great Lakes, has come on board as well.

Combine this with the incredible support of environmental and fishing and hunting groups, and it is fair to say the lakes have not witnessed such strong support in recent history.

However, we have several goals we must accomplish in 2004 to make this legislation a reality:

* No. 1: Preserve the coalition. From day one, we set out to gather a Democrat and a Republican from each state bordering the Great Lakes before introducing the bill, and we were successful. Of the 12 Michigan members co-sponsoring the bill, for example, six are Democrats and six are Republicans.

Roughly 28 million Americans receive their drinking water from the Great Lakes, regardless of party affiliation. Only with strong bipartisan backing will the Great Lakes receive the attention that they need.

* No. 2: Work with the White House to pass the bill. The Great Lakes account for 18 percent of the surface freshwater on the planet and 90 percent of the surface freshwater in the United States. They are an invaluable resource jeopardized by myriad threats. Nonpoint source pollution degrades water quality, and invasive species such as the zebra mussel and sea lamprey have devastated the ecology of the Lakes.

More than 1,500 fish consumption advisories have been issued on the Great Lakes, and beach closings have increased every year since the early 1990s. There were a record 919 beach closings in 2002 on Lake Michigan alone.

The Great Lakes face critical challenges, but we have an opportunity to pass monumental legislation that will set them on the path toward recovery. However, this bill will not advance without the support of the administration. We know that President Bush is interested, but we need to ensure that his administration is fully engaged and fully dedicated to Great Lakes restoration.

We will continue to solicit the presidentís support, and we are confident that he will join us in this crucial endeavor.

* No. 3: Secure the funding. To receive congressional funding, Congress must first authorize a project. The Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act provides the authorization, but once it passes, we need to ensure that it receives the necessary appropriations. It is the final stage in which good programs often fall short.

Our coalition has already sent a letter to the president requesting that he include funding for restoration in his 2005 budget request, and we will continue to work to ensure that programs established under the Great Lakes Financing Act receive proper funding.

Great Lakes restoration ranks high among the several challenges and opportunities facing Congress. Last year was a great year for the lakes because it allowed us to build a base of support. In the next year, we must work just as hard to finish the job of protecting and restoring the grandeur of this incredible treasure.

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