Great Lakes Restoration Plan Released

  • Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk, Ohio Governor Bob Taft, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. This was right taken after they signed the agreement. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

In the spring of 2004, President Bush created a task force to develop a comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan. The group recently released its final recommendations. But members already disagree about the future of their proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee reports:

Transcript

In April 2004, President George Bush created a task force to develop a
comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan. The group recently
released its recommendations, but members already disagree about the
future of their proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn
Allee reports:


Efforts to improve the Great Lakes face a major hurdle. Local, state and
federal programs overlap and sometimes duplicate one another. That
wastes a lot of time and money. President Bush wanted to change this. So, he
created a task force called the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. For the
first time, cities, states, federal agencies, and Indian tribes would agree to
specific goals and how to reach them. By most accounts they succeeded.


Here’s Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.


“I can’t overstate what a major step forward this is for the Great Lakes.
For the first time, we’re all the same page with a common vision.”


The parties agreed to eight major goals. Among other things, they want
to restore wetlands along Great Lakes shorelines, they want to clean up
heavy metals that pollute lakebeds, and they want to keep sewage away
from public beaches. The cost for all this would stand at billions of
dollars, and that price tag caused a major rift.


Bush administration officials agreed to spend 300 million additional
dollars per year. That’s just a fraction of what states and environmental
groups hoped for.


Derek Stack is with Great Lakes United, an advocacy group. He says
states want to participate, but sometimes they can’t.


“I think a lot of the states simply don’t have the dollars necessary to pull
it off.”


Tribes, cities and states are being careful with their criticism. They want
to keep the door open for the administration to change its mind.


“To be fair to the federal administration, the states are saying we don’t
have federal money, and the feds are pointing out that we don’t exactly
have state money either, but the states have committed themselves to the
plan. So, now that they know what they’ve committed themselves to, the
budget building can begin. It’s hard to build a budget if you don’t have a
plan.”


Some critics are more strident, though. Illinois Congressman Rahm
Emmanuel says the administration needs this clear message. Federal
leadership requires federal money.


“There’s either action or inaction. This is the ninth report in five years,
and I hope it’s the last report. Now, there’s nothing that can’t be cured when
it comes to the Great Lakes that resources can’t take care of.”


Great Lakes advocates and state governments will be watching the next
few months closely.


Cameron Davis directs the Alliance for the Great Lakes. He says he’s
reserving judgment until the President releases a budget proposal.


“That budget will be released the first week of February, and if it has 300
million dollars in new funding, then we’ll know that the administration’s
serious. If it doesn’t we need to ask Congress to step in.”


Some legislators say that deadline might be too soon to judge the
ultimate success of the restoration plan.


Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk says other federal cleanup efforts came
after several reports and years of waiting. Congressman Kirk says the
prospects for the restoration plan are good. The Great Lakes region has
the strength of eight states standing behind it.


“When you look at the success of the Chesapeake Bay, and then the success
of protecting the Everglades, you see, once you come together with a
common vision, what a unified part of state delegation or in the case of
Florida, what an entire state delegation can do.”


On the other hand, it might be hard to keep eight state governments
focused on a common purpose.


There’s another wrinkle in the restoration plan as well. Canada lies on the other
side of the Great Lakes, and any comprehensive plan will require its
cooperation as well.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Farm to Wetlands Program to Be Scaled Back?

A popular federal program that pays farmers to restore wetlands on their property is underfunded in President Bush’s budget proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein has more:

Transcript

A popular federal program that pays farmers to restore wetlands on their property is underfunded
in President Bush’s budget proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein
has more:


The 2002 Farm Bill called for turning 250,000 acres a year of marginal farmland into wetlands.
Wetlands on farms help control pesticide run-off, replenish aquifers, and provide wildlife habitat.
And the effort gives farmers some extra cash in lean times. The Bush Administration wants to
downsize the program by 50,000 acres a year. But critics say it’s too popular to reduce.


“For every acre that gets enrolled, there are five acres waiting to get enrolled.”


Julie Sibbing is the wetlands policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. She says millions
of acres of wetlands nationwide are under threat from development. And farm conservation
programs are a crucial way to preserve them.


“There’s been a lot of talk about how the farm programs have expanded under the Bush
Administration. It’s really not been the great expansion that we would have liked to have seen.”


Last year, the program helped convert 213,000 acres of unused farmland into wetlands, short of the
250,000 acre goal.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.

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Budget Calls for Cleaner School Buses

The Bush administration has proposed a funding increase for a nationwide program to reduce pollution from diesel school buses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson reports:

Transcript

The Bush administration has proposed a funding increase for a nationwide
program to reduce pollution from diesel school buses. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erika Johnson reports:


The Environmental Protection Agency launched a program last year to cut
emissions from diesel school buses. Five million dollars was divided among
a handful of school districts nationwide. The money was used to replace or
retrofit diesel school buses with pollution control devices and to provide
cleaner burning diesel fuels. Now, the Bush administration has proposed
that an additional 65-million dollars be added to the program next year.


Tom Skinner is EPA’s Region 5 Administrator.


“The reason for the big jump is that we’ve seen the kind of success, the
kind of results that can be created by the program, and what we’ve found is
it’s tremendously effective. We started with a relatively small pilot
program with limited funding, and now is really when we’re going to kick it off, and
expand it dramatically and really reach across the country.”


Skinner says EPA hopes to replace or retrofit all diesel school bus engines
by 2010.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erika Johnson.

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More Money for Great Lakes Cleanup?

The Bush Administration is seeking 45 million dollars from Congress to fund efforts to clean up parts of the Great Lakes. The money would go toward cleaning up four severely polluted sites. There are 26 such polluted sites located entirely within U.S. borders. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has more:

Transcript

The Bush Administration is seeking 45 million dollars from Congress to fund
efforts to clean up parts of the Great Lakes. The money would go toward
cleaning up four severely polluted sites. There are 26 such polluted sites
located entirely within U.S. borders. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Jerome Vaughn has more:


The 45 million dollars the Bush Administration is asking for in its 2005
budget proposal…more than quadruples the amount provided this year to
clean up contaminated sediments under the Great Lakes Legacy Act.


EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt traveled to Detroit to make the
announcement. He says the purpose of the increased funding is pretty
clear.


“Improving the quality of the water… and making certain the metals,
phosphates and any other pollutant that’s there now… can be taken out
before it becomes a bigger problem.”


The additional monies would be used to clean up four so-called “areas of
concern”… where pollution from PCBs and heavy metals are known to exist.


Some environmental groups… applaud the Bush Administration’s move… but say
more resources are still needed to address other issues… like invasive
species and vanishing wildlife habitats.


The Great Lakes Legacy Act was signed into law in 2002… but the program has
not previously been fully funded by Congress.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.

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