EPA leader touts president's plan to
protect Great Lakes
By Barton Deiters
The Grand Rapids Press
Published August 27, 2004
The head of the EPA was in Grand Rapids on Thursday to
tout the Bush administration's commitment to the environment
and to protecting the Great Lakes.
But for local environmentalists, actions since 2001 speak
louder than words in the heat of a pitched election battle.
Michael Leavitt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
administrator, touted plans by Bush to regulate levels
of mercury, reduce pollution and streamline funding for
Leavitt traveled with U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers to gawk
at the giant hole on Franklin Street SW just west of South
Division Avenue, where workers lowered huge pipes into
the ground as part of the city's sewer separation project.
Leavitt praised Grand Rapids for its efforts to eliminate
combined sewer overflow into the Great Lakes and its tributaries,
specifically the Grand River.
The pair and their entourage also traveled to the West
Side to get a look at the Fish Ladder and face questions
from TV reporters, city officials and environmentalists.
Leavitt, the former Utah governor appointed by Bush last
November to head the EPA, is on a tour to discuss the
Great Lakes Federal Task Force the president created by
executive order. The task force is charged with protecting
the Great Lakes, which supplies fresh water to 30 million
"I know of no other president who's signed an executive
order like (this) pertaining to one region," Leavitt
said during an interview at The Grand Rapids Press.
"This develops regional collaboration of national
The task force brings together eight states, two nations
and environmental and business interests. But don't look
for any concrete action from the task force until after
the November election. It then will begin an inventory
of some 140 federal programs spread among 10 government
"There's not a person on the planet that knows how
much money is being spent," Leavitt said.
It will be next summer before any proposals are made.
That will be followed by six months of public comment,
followed by congressional input.
Several environmental groups contend the effort is little
more than a delaying tactic to avoid putting more money
into environmental programs.
The Bush administration has slashed funding for Great
Lakes protection by more than $249 million, said Jan O'Connell,
chairwoman of the West Michigan region of the Sierra Club,
who was on hand at the Fish Ladder.
She was introduced to Leavitt by Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids,
who referred to her as "a very reasonable member
of the Sierra Club."
O'Connell asked Leavitt why EPA programs are the first
to be cut. "I challenge that premise," Leavitt
The EPA for the first time will have a mercury control
rule, Leavitt said, adding that a proposal for controlling
the toxin will be announced by mid-September.
But criticism already has surfaced. The Sierra Club contends
the proposal actually would allow more mercury into the
air. Advisories warning against consumption of fish tainted
with mercury have been rising to the point where all but
five states have advisories.
An increase in testing that has led to more advisories
because mercury is everywhere, Leavitt countered, adding
that 60 percent of mercury comes from outside the United
U.S. mercury emissions, Leavitt said, have dropped by
45 percent over the past decade.
Leavitt said the administration is working to keep West
Michigan from having to implement emissions testing, which
would lead to testing stations and more stringent emission
control systems for automobiles.
"That's a painful experience for communities, and
they don't like it," Leavitt said.
West Michigan has dodged that bullet in the past by convincing
the EPA under President Bill Clinton that much of the
air pollution here comes across Lake Michigan from Chicago