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Environmentalists upset by budget Great Lakes, Buffalo River cleanup underfunded, say critics

Environmentalists are questioning President Bush's commitment to cleaning the Great Lakes following his proposed budget, which contains little new money to do the work.

"This is a clear case where actions speak louder than words," said Jordan Lubetkin, spokesman for the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation.

In a 2004 executive order announcing the formation of a regional task force on the Great Lakes, Bush promised the federal government was "committed to making progress" in addressing environmental challenges the lakes face.

A regional collaborative, which involved the work of 1,500 people spanning a wide spectrum of interested parties, issued a report last December.

The report's recommendations included stopping the introduction of non-native fish and plants that have altered the lakes ecosystem; cleaning up specially designated "areas of concern," including the Buffalo River; and controlling sewage discharges.

The projected cost of the 15-year plan was $20 billion. The region's governors had asked Bush to put $300 million toward the cleanup in this year's budget.

Lubetkin and others say the recommendations represented an impressive action plan, a consensus reached by a large number of interested parties in a relatively short period of time.

Now, he and others worry that the momentum will be blunted by a lack of money.

Aububon New York Executive Director David J. Miller characterized the mood at the time of the report's release as "everybody's happy, let's move forward and restore the Great Lakes."

With the absence of funding in the president's budget, he said, "It just doesn't seem like the right hand is knowing what the left hand is doing."

Great Lakes United Executive Director Derek Stack said the absence of funding for any of the solutions proposed by the Great Lakes Regional Collaborative was disturbing.

"I think we're backpedaling a little bit," he said. "There is some retaining of funding, and some commitment for new stuff, but [the budget] doesn't at all reflect the amount of time and effort that went into the collaborative."

The president's budget did contain an additional $19 million for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which works to clean up the most polluted spots along the lakes, and a $2 million addition for fish and wildlife conservation efforts on the lakes.

But Great Lakes watchers noted that the budget proposal cut $193 million from a program that helps communities update sewer systems; $1 million from the Great Lakes Program office, which is responsible for implementing many of the recommendations; and $2 million from the program controlling a persistent invader species, the sea lamprey.

The environmentalists said they will now appeal to Congress to add funding for the cleanup agenda.

"The president's budget makes it clear that the fate of the Great Lakes now rests with Congress," Lubetkin said. "The president's budget does not get it done, so we look to Congress to clean up a resource of national importance."


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