MARQUETTE - U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, led a group of five fellow Democrats, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, in asking Friday that at least $300 million be directed to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in President Barack Obama's 2014 budget.
In addition to Levin, who is the co-chairman of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, and Stabenow, a letter expressing the request to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients was signed by senators Sharrod Brown of Ohio, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota.
The letter said President Obama recognized the importance of the Great Lakes as a vital resource by including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, then a new program, in his budget request for fiscal year 2010. Obama requested $475 million for the initiative.
"Unfortunately, funding was cut for the GLRI to $300 million in fiscal year 2011 and 2012. Further cuts to this program would endanger critical restoration projects, that in the end would cost more to correct. The longer restoration waits, the more expensive it will be to address the problems," the senators wrote. "For these reasons, we strongly urge you to hold funding at no less than $300 million in the President's fiscal year 2014 budget request for the GLRI. As you face difficult decisions in the weeks ahead, we hope you will recognize the vital benefits the GLRI provides, and reflect that in the budget."
The senators' letter said "the Great Lakes are one of the world's greatest national treasures and are vital to our nation's economy."
"The Great Lakes help power our economy by supplying manufacturers and power plants with water; serving a vital transportation route for industrial and building commodities, fuel supplies, agricultural products, and exports; providing drinking water to more than 30 million Americans; generating $16 billion in spending from recreational boaters; and supporting a $7 billion fishery," the senators said.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative targets funds to programs and projects addressing the most significant problems in the Great Lakes Ecosystem, including cleaning up toxics at Areas of Concern, like Deer Lake north of Ishpeming.
In these places, "industrial pollution continues to threaten public health, contaminate fish and wildlife, and make waterfronts unusable to lakefront communities resulting in lost revenues to local governments and sources of income for businesses," the senators wrote.
The initiative is also working to prevent destructive invasive species, such as Asian carp, from entering the Great Lakes and destroying its $7 billion fishery. The program also works to protect wetlands and watersheds from polluted runoff which can lead to algae blooms resulting in beach closures, fish kills, and public health problems.
The senators said these examples clearly show "cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes is not just about being good stewards of the environment; these investments are directly tied to the health of the economy.
"Cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes creates jobs now, and provides an environment favorable for business creation and expansion," the senators wrote. "In fact, a 2007 study by the Brookings Institution found that every dollar spent on restoring the Great Lakes will yield a two to three dollar return. Clearly, that is a worthy investment."
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