Bush creates Great Lakes task force
By Sarah Kellogg
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
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 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
"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
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
"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