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Great Lakes funding comes to crossroads

The effort to restore the Great Lakes is at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Congress will make decisions that either help or hinder the restoration of lakes Michigan and Superior, along with the other Great Lakes. Wisconsin's congress...

The effort to restore the Great Lakes is at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Congress will make decisions that either help or hinder the restoration of lakes Michigan and Superior, along with the other Great Lakes. Wisconsin's congressional delegation, including Sen. Herb Kohl, must fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in full and pass the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act. Both pieces of legislation are vital for the millions of Wisconsinites who depend on the Lakes for their jobs, drinking water, public health and way of life.

Unfortunately, both the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act (H.R. 4755/S. 3073) face uncertain futures. Congress is threatening to sharply cut the GLRI from $475 million to $300 million, or less. At the same time, it is unclear whether lawmakers will vote on the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act at all.

The GLRI, introduced by President Obama and enacted by the U.S. Congress last year, has been a shot in the arm for Great Lakes restoration. The program has infused $475 million into successful programs and projects to solve some of the most vexing problems facing the Lakes, including invasive species, toxic pollution and habitat destruction. Wisconsin received $29 million for 50 projects in 2010 alone.

The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act is a landmark bill that will further advance Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery. This bill establishes important funding to restore our Great Lakes and includes strong provisions to ensure restoration efforts are prioritized, science-based, transparent, and focused on action. The bill charges the EPA and other federal agencies with implementing Great Lakes restoration priorities set by regional partners.

Cutting funding or delaying action on these bills would slow important progress the nation is making to restore the Lakes. Having endured toxic pollution, habitat destruction and polluted runoff, a backlog of restoration work remains. Earlier this year, applications for GRLI grants outpaced available funds 7-to-1; many projects went unfunded, and new threats, including Asian carp, are emerging.

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Now is not the time to scale back the nation's commitment to restoring the largest surface fresh-water resource in the world. Without this commitment, the problems will get worse and the solutions more costly. Strong support from Wisconsin's congressional delegation for these two bills is essential. The need for Great Lakes restoration has never been greater.

Melissa Malott is the Water Program Director at Clean Wisconsin, the state's largest environmental advocacy organization. For more information, visit www.healthylakes.org or www.cleanwisconsin.org .

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