From: Ken Thomas, Associated Press
Published March 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Lawmakers Tout Great Lakes Cleanup Plan

WASHINGTON -- A massive cleanup plan to restore the Great Lakes for future generations needs to be a priority in Congress this year, lawmakers and environmental activists said Wednesday. Members of Congress representing Great Lakes states outlined a $20 billion plan to improve water quality, restore fish and wildlife around the lakes and guard against invasive species that could inflict economic pain on the region.

"It's time for Congress to invest in restoring the Great Lakes so that Michigan's economy, environmental health and quality of life aren't diminished," said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton.

The Great Lakes provide drinking water to about 40 million people and represent about 20 percent of the world's supply of fresh water. The waters are key to the region's tourist economy and industrial base.

A similar measure introduced last year failed to gain traction, but lawmakers said it was important to approve the framework before any significant shifts in Congress.

The House bill is backed by Reps. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., and Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. The Senate version is led by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

With population booms in the southwest, Ehlers noted that redistricting occurs every decade and "every 10 years the Great Lakes states lose representation in Congress."

The proposal would help implement a Great Lakes restoration plan issued in December 2005 and based on suggestions from a broad array of lawmakers, environmentalists and regional activists.

The legislation would approve programs to stop the spread of invasive species and prevent the influx of Asian carp, prevent sewage contamination in the lakes and clean up contaminated sediment.

President Bush's budget proposal includes $7.6 million to complete an electronic barrier to target the Asian carp, which emerged from Southern fish farms in the early 1990s and has been making its way up the Mississippi River.

Scientists contend that if the carp spread across the Great Lakes, it would battle native species for food and devastate the $4.5 billion commercial and sport fishing industry.

Congress approved a measure last year to reauthorize up to $16 million a year for grants to restore fish and wildlife habitats in the lakes. Lawmakers noted that Congress has supported large programs to restore the Florida Everglades in the past and must not shortchange the Great Lakes.

"We're getting the small things right and the big things wrong," Emanuel said.

A large portion of the funding could come from a state loan program that helps communities improve their wastewater infrastructure. But supporters of the Great Lakes plan said a restoration plan would pay dividends in future years.

"The longer we wait to repair our Great Lakes, the more expensive it will be for taxpayers," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.

Source: Associated Press

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