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Great Lakes Gain Funding, Lose Important Advocate

Great LakesThe Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of the freshwater in the world, have been a catalyst for the Midwest’s economic development during the past century. If they’ve given much, they have also been thoughtlessly exploited. Today, the Lakes’ waters are glutted with toxic waste, agricultural pesticides, and invasive species; and their filtering wetlands are increasingly engulfed by development. On Sunday, the Obama administration announced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, with a budget of $2 billion.

One aspect of the preservation project is prevention of further degradation—a strategy primarily focused on stopping the annual dumping of 45 million pounds of e-waste, 45 million pills, and  4.5 million pounds of household hazardous waste in and around the lakes.  Restoration efforts will be coordinated by the Environmental Protection Agency and funded over five years by Congress.

At least that's the idea. One of the Lakes’ most persistent advocates was Congressman Vern Ehlers, who announced earlier this month that he would be stepping down from office. “He treated the Great Lakes like it is, which is a coast of America,” Bill Rustem,  who was an environmental aide to former Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken, recently told Great Lakes Echo.

Defenders of the lakes are concerned over what will happen with Ehlers out of Congress and financial woes continuing to plague the Obama administration. Funding for the initiative is broken down into yearly allotments of $475 million, the first of which was approved last year. Already the recession has gotten the better of the program, with Obama announcing a cut of the allotment to $300 million for the coming year. The hope is that this does not indicate a permanent reduction in funds.

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