Great Lakes Need Help, Voinovich Says
By Sabrina Eaton
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Published March 17, 2006
Washington- Failure to promptly fix Great Lakes environmental problems could lead to a catastrophe as severe as Hurricane Katrina's damage, Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich forecast Thursday.
"We are being shortsighted," Voinovich told a Senate hearing on the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, noting that New Orleans wouldn't have flooded if its levees had been adequately fortified before the storm. "It is time to look at the big picture."
Legislators and environmental groups told a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing chaired by Voinovich that problems like invasive species, sewage discharge and contaminated sediments have pushed the lakes to a "tipping point" and that fixes are needed before a region that contains 20 percent of the world's fresh water is irreversibly damaged.
Gov. Bob Taft urged the federal government to provide $6 million for a barrier to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, $50 million to clean up abandoned industrial waterfront properties and $28.5 million to restore wetlands.
"The time to act is now," Taft later told a Great Lakes activists' rally outside the U.S. Capitol.
Republican Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine pitched reauthorizing the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, which would provide $18 million in yearly grants to protect fish and wildlife. It would be the third renewal of the funding.
Voinovich and other senators praised cleanup and coordination efforts outlined in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy released last year but expressed concern about oversight efforts and financing shortfalls. When the plan was released, its cost was estimated at $20 billion.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson told the committee the $70 million that President Bush requested for Great Lakes programs in 2007 would fully pay for contaminated sediment cleanup, but a committee member pointed out that the administration's request cut money for sewage treatment plant repair by nearly 50 percent.
Bush also cut money for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office. Voinovich asked Johnson to give him a list of all federal programs that affect the Great Lakes, and report whether Bush's budget boosted or diminished their funding.
Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, warned that the Great Lakes' needs must be balanced with other priorities in tight fiscal times.
"While much progress has been made in just the past few years in terms of the oversight of the Great Lakes programs, much more is needed before we can add to the federal contribution of over one half a billion dollars per year," Inhofe told the committee.
But Andy Buchsbaum, who heads the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Natural Resource Center, predicted the 16 senators and 110 members of Congress from Great Lakes states will procure more money when the budget numbers are finalized.
"Ultimately, it is not the president who passes the budget," Buchsbaum said.
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