Great Lakes Cleanup May Hit $20 Billion
CHICAGO The cost of a Great Lakes cleanup plan unveiled Monday by a White House-backed group could reach $20 billion, a price that Washington has already said the U.S. government cannot afford.
"The next step in implementing the plan is to obtain funding," said Reg Gilbert of the environmental group Great Lakes United after the plan was introduced at a news conference in Chicago.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson introduced the plan drawn up by a 1,500-member task force made up of officials from federal, state and local governments along with Indian tribal groups.
To ensure the health of the world's largest collective body of fresh water, which 35 million North Americans rely on for drinking water, the report called for billions of dollars in government funding to refurbish decrepit municipal sewer systems, clean up toxic "hot spots," keep out invasive species, restore wetlands and other projects.
But after the task force, created in 2004 by President Bush, released a preliminary report in July, federal agencies said in a letter to the White House that tight budgets meant there could be no additional funding for Great Lakes cleanup.
An EPA official said $20 billion was not necessarily what would be spent.
"It states in the report that none of the partners are endorsing every item in this report. We're all focused on realistic and efficient ways to get the job done," EPA Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles told Reuters.
"The mayors, tribes, governors and members of Congress have each independently recommended significant new funding next year to implement the plan -- at least a net increase of $300 million over this year's federal budget for the Great Lakes ecosystem. Now we are waiting for the administration's commitment for significant new funding," Gilbert said.
"This restoration plan comes just in time," said Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation. "The Great Lakes are sick. Their immune system is damaged. If we quickly take the actions in this plan we can heal the lakes."
For Indian representatives on the Great Lakes task force, concerns focused on levels of mercury and other contaminants in fish in the region that they rely on for income as well as food.
"We're spending billions of dollars looking for water on Mars, but we're not even testing for mercury in fish living in inland waters," said Chief Lee Sprague of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, which fishes on Lake Michigan.