Funding for Great Lakes cleanup not
likely to survive Congress
By Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Published February 6th, 2005
DETROIT - (KRT) - The health of sediment in Great Lakes
harbors and connecting rivers - given a failing grade
in a recent federal biological report card - would get
$50 million in cleanup money next year under the president's
proposed budget being unveiled Monday.
But whether funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act survives
intact amid the hand-to-hand combat of congressional budget
infighting is doubtful. Last year's $45 million proposal
was halved after Congress got through with it. The previous
year, $15 million was cut to $10 million.
So although the five-year Legacy Act authorized $270
million, only $82.5 million will have been approved in
its first three years even if a Pollyanna scenario pans
out and the proposal is untouched.
"It's good news that it's $50 million more than
is authorized now, but it's below the level the Legacy
Act should be funded at, and startlingly smaller than
the total needs for the Great Lakes," said U.S. Rep.
John Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat.
It's still a "substantial increase" from previous
years, said Ben Grumble, assistant administrator for the
Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water. Grumble
announced the $50 million proposal Friday .
Added to previous outlays, the money would fully fund
the federal shares of 14 projects targeted for the first
phase of cleanup.
The Legacy Act is designed to clean the harbors, bays
and tributaries that were treated as open sewers and toxic
dumps throughout much of the 20th century. The indifference
left a legacy of dangerous gunk that accumulated up to
dozens of feet deep on the bottom. The quagmire makes
the lakebeds unfit for fish spawning, mollusks, aquatic
plants, insect larvae and other tiny critters at the base
of the food chain.
Even intact, the $50 million is a fraction of the up
to $4 billion that is needed to clean up the 31 Great
Lakes areas identified by federal officials as the most
Still, it's one more step on a 100-mile journey, said
Mike Donahue , president of the Great Lakes Commission,
a binational research and advocacy agency that includes
all eight Great Lakes states: "When you've had a
longstanding drought, even one drop of rain is welcome,"
But scrapping for dollars every year is no way to fund
a stable program, environmentalists argue.
"We need to establish a stable funding mechanism,
like a Superfund," said James Clift, policy adviser
for the Michigan Environmental Council. He said much of
the Legacy Act money has been robbed from other areas,
like Superfund and Clean Water Act programs. The result
is no net gain for cleanup funding. "They act like
it's new money, but it's really money he's (Bush) cut
from elsewhere over his tenure," Clift said.
There's little debate about the toxicity of the Legacy
Act's target, though.
Underwater sediment is the most vexing problem for the
Great Lakes coastline, according to a report released
last month by a coalition of federal and state agencies.
The National Coastal Condition Reports gave the lakes
high scores - 4's and 5's on a scale from 1 to 5 - for
dissolved oxygen levels, water clarity, and the quality
of the region's drinking water. Low scores, 2's, were
given for the health of tiny organisms that live in the
sediment, water quality and the condition of coastal wetlands.
But only lakes sediment got the worst possible grade,
a lowly 1. The score was unimproved from the agencies'
first report issued four years earlier.
"It got a poor grade based on the sediments in harbors
and in areas along the coastline," said Paul Bertram
, an environmental scientist in the EPA's Great Lakes
National Program office, which helped produce the report.
Some 10 to 30 million cubic yards of sediment needs removal,
and less than 10 percent has been dealt with so far, the
report said. Until more progress is made, it will continue
to be the leading cause of fish consumption advisories
and cripple recreational and economic activity, the report
For more information on the Great Lakes Legacy Act, go
To see the Great Lakes Coastal Condition Report, go to
www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/nccr/2005/ and download the Great