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Great Lakes Article:

Bush creates Great Lakes task force
By Sarah Kellogg
Washington Bureau
Posted May 19, 2004

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has waded into the Great Lakes restoration debate with a new plan, but it's unclear whether his proposal will speed up or delay protection efforts.

On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order creating a special interagency task force to coordinate federal Great Lakes programs and to develop a work plan for refurbishing the lakes.

"The task force brings (federal Great Lakes) resources and programs together in a much more harmonious way," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "We are confident that we can help assure the future greatness of the Great Lakes."

Environmentalists aren't so sure, noting that the task force has not been given any additional money or any new authority.

"President Bush has gotten it half right," said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Natural Resource Center in Ann Arbor. "His executive order calls for a much-needed planning process, but there is no promise that this task force's recommendations will lead to action and funding."

Governors were reluctant to criticize the president, even though they had hoped for additional federal funding and had been urging Bush to get involved in the Great Lakes restoration process for the last two years.

"Governor Granholm welcomes the president's engaging on the Great Lakes," said Liz Boyd, the governor's press secretary.

Granholm is scheduled to meet with Mike Leavitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on Monday, and Boyd said the governor will likely quiz him on whether the president is committed to funding major restoration projects once the work plan is completed.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would authorize the federal government to spend up to $6 billion over 10 years to clean up the lakes and provide protections against invasive species.

Environmentalists say the president's focus on another year of planning does little to deal with current problems, such as the voracious Asian carp, which threatens the entire ecosystem.

"The needs are right here; they're right now," said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation, a coalition of environmental groups.

"We cannot push off Great Lakes restoration to future generations and future administrations. We're beyond the point where these things are threats. They're real."

Leavitt announced the Bush administration's plans at a news conference at Chicago's Navy Pier. He said the task force will coordinate its efforts with governors, mayors, environmentalists and other groups to deliver its work plan to the president by May 31, 2005.

The executive order is a response, in part, to a 2003 Government Accounting Office report, which found that 33 federal and 17 state programs had spent about $1.7 billion on Great Lakes protection efforts yet there was no proof the money had produced results.

Republican members of Congress said the executive order will ensure that the 10 federal agencies that oversee the more than 140 Great Lakes programs are working cooperatively.

This will provide better administration of existing money," said U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. "It may not be new money, but we'll do a better job with what we have now."

Ehlers will introduce legislation as early as today that would consolidate a number of Great Lakes programs.

Democratic critics charged Tuesday that the executive order was political, noting that it allows the president to woo voters in Great Lakes swing states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign responded quickly, pulling together a conference call between reporters and congressional Democrats before the executive order was officially released.

"This is a wonderful piece of paper, which I hope will bring with it some benefits in terms of cleaning up the Great Lakes (and) addressing the problem of invasive species," U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, said during the conference call. "In the words of Shakespeare, ... 'It is an idiot's tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing'."


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