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Great Lakes Article:

Bush gives attention to Great Lakes with task force
By George Weeks
The Detroit News
Published May 24, 2004

For decades, Michigan’s governors and lawmakers of both parties have been urging presidents of both parties to give more attention and higher funding priority to the Great Lakes.

President George W. Bush paid special attention last week, taking a step that he said would enhance this “national treasure” as “an economic engine and recreational haven.”

When he named a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate Great Lakes “sustainable development and restoration,” Republicans dutifully heaped praise and said his 2005 fiscal year budget has a five-fold increase for Environmental Protection Funding for the Great Lakes.

Some Democrats said he’s not walking the talk now any more than before. “Smoke screen,” shrieked the Sierra Club.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm had a reasonable reaction. She welcomed Bush’s “engaging on the Great Lakes,” but she awaits a meeting with the head of the task force to determine if there will be the green of federal dollars to help preserve the deep blue of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, whose district includes nearly 200 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, told me, “I agree with the governor” that the key thing now is “to cut through some of the clutter” in the federal system and push for funding now that the Great Lakes are on Bush’s radar screen.

Granholm Press Secretary Liz Boyd says the governor is concerned that Bush’s executive order “offers no funding” for implementation.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, long second to none in Michigan as a champion of the Great Lakes, goes so far as to declare: “The order excludes additional funding or resources to implement a comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan.”

It does no such thing, in the sense that “excludes” means preventing or keeping out. It simply did not address funding. Executive orders do not appropriate money.

Funding will be a focus of Granholm’s planned Detroit meeting Wednesday with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt, head of the 10-member Cabinet-level task force. One of the task force members, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, plans an early June visit to Michigan.

As Stupak notes, the Bush administration has “committed $8 billion to the Everglades restoration in Florida, and we need that same kind of commitment to the Great Lakes region.”

Florida, whose governor is Bush’s brother, may be more pivotal in the 2004 electoral battle this year than Michigan. But, as an electoral cluster, such battleground Great Lakes states as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin command his special attention.

He gave it in his order creating the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force that should address failures identified by the General Accounting Office. One is the lack of coordinated activity. Another is lack of adequate funding.

Dave Dempsey, policy adviser for the Michigan Environmental Council and author of Michigan State University Press’ new “On the Brink” book on the Great Lakes, says, “It’s good that the White House is finally paying attention to the Great Lakes.”

However, he cited it as an example “of how politicians pay lip service to the world’s greatest freshwater ecosystem, but balk at doing almost anything meaningful to protect them.”

There is time before Nov. 2 for Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress to prove their environmental critics wrong.


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