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Federal government must take lead in restoring Great Lakes, environmentalists say
By John Flesher
The Associated Press
Published May 27, 2004


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Even with its soaring budget deficit, the federal government should take the lead in cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes environment, advocates said Thursday.

Wrapping up a three-day conference, more than 70 scientists and leaders of environmental organizations called for a stronger federal role in protecting the lakes.

"The Great Lakes are not being managed as the national treasures they are," said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association. "The federal government is letting this region down."

The conference in Grand Rapids was organized by philanthropist and conservation activist Peter Wege. Among those attending were leaders of groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and American Rivers.

While nursing the Great Lakes back to health will be a long-term and complex process, the conference participants said three areas needed immediate attention: water quality, exotic species and toxic pollution.

They recommended $20 billion in federal funding, with an additional $10 billion from the states, for water quality projects such as rebuilding decaying wastewater systems that discharge raw sewage into the lakes during storms like those in southern Michigan this month.

Other proposals included curbing emissions of mercury, greenhouse gases and other airborne toxins; restoring wetlands; and rewarding pollution prevention efforts.

The government should hold accountable those responsible for introducing invasive species, which compete with native plant and animal life and alter the Great Lakes ecological balance, the groups said in a joint statement.

They asked Congress to set a deadline of 2015 for cleaning up the most heavily contaminated sites on the Great Lakes. Those responsible for the pollution should be held financially responsible, and at least $400 million in federal funds should be appropriated yearly for cleanups, the statement said.

Members of Congress from the region have pushed for increased Great Lakes funding as large sums have been devoted to other major ecosystems such as the Everglades and Chesapeake Bay.

Pending bills would create a trust fund of up to $6 billion for Great Lakes environmental restoration.

President Bush this year included $45 million in his proposed 2005 budget for cleaning rivers and harbors that flow into the lakes, four times as much as the previous year.

And he named a Cabinet-level task force this month to coordinate Great Lakes cleanup efforts.

But conference participants said those steps weren't nearly enough.

"We think more needs to be done than forming special advisory committees of bureaucrats," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

 

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