Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Administration Announces the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Hanging Out
A February day at Ottawa Beach

In case you missed it: Over the weekend, the Obama administration unveiled a five-year plan that will allocate "$2.2 billion for long-awaited repairs after a century of damage" to the Great Lakes. In other words, it's a good start. The plan assumes yearly appropriations of $475 million through 2014, with $300 million in this year's budget, and contains detailed goals for the cleanup of toxic pollution, help to restore wildlife habitats and replenishing of game fish, and a "zero tolerance" policy in the never-ending fight against invasive species.

Among the goals it seeks by 2014: finishing work at five toxic hot spots that have languished on cleanup lists for two decades; a 40 percent reduction in the rate at which invasive species are discovered in the lakes; measurable decreases in phosphorus runoff; and protection of nearly 100,000 wetland acres.

It also will help save species such as the lake sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that can reach 8 feet long and 200 pounds but is endangered because of overharvesting and habitat degradation. The plan promises to provide 25,000 young sturgeon for stocking programs.

Combined with enforcement of environmental rules and new ones where needed, officials said the plan would help make Great Lakes fish safe to eat, their waters suitable for drinking and swimming, and their native plants and animals thriving.

Concerns are that too much restoration money is being diverted to fight Asian Carp; environmentalists want to see that money come from elsewhere in the federal budget, and, in the latest bit of cognitive dissonance from the "less government spending" GOP side of the aisle, we have State Senator Patty Birkholz agreeing that more funding should be found elsewhere.

"If the federal government had done what they should have done five to 10 years ago, invasive species would not be as big of an issue," she said. "The federal government was not stepping up to the plate when it should have been."

Birkholz said she supports efforts to stop invasive species, but does not want to see large sums of Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan siphoned off for that purpose. She figures other funding should be made available.

Remind us again - which party was in control of the federal government during the past decade? And, how is it that the GOP can embrace the demands of the teabaggers, and then turn around and call for more federal spending? The mind reels. Ehlers jumped on the bandwagon as well.

U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, a longtime advocate for Great Lakes protection, said he is happy with the federal effort -- an initiative he described as "not a new concept."

"I've been working to bring this issue to the forefront and it's finally here," he said. "It's certainly overdue."

Ehlers, however, said he is concerned the Obama administration is "overly optimistic" about the funding solving the massive issues affecting the Great Lakes.

What else are we going to do Vern, use harsh language? They aren't going to fix themselves, and this is a down payment for repairs. To give some credit where due, Ehlers and Birkholz have been advocates for the environment as much as any Republican can be in this day and age, but they really need to address their complaints at the members of their own party leadership first. If this plan was "long overdue", it's only because Republicans such as George Bush and John Engler sided with big business polluters while they generally refused to enforce existing laws and provide any funding for cleaning up the mess.

With this plan we have a nice start towards repairing the damage. Thank the nice President and his people for taking solid action on this issue. You can read the whole plan here:

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative