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House passes extension of Great Lakes clean-up program

WASHINGTON – The federal effort to clean up and protect the Great Lakes got a big boost Tuesday when the House unanimously passed legislation that extends the program for another five years.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where passage is expected, given the widespread bipartisan support for the measure in the House.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative authorizes $300 million in funding for each of the next five years for a cleanup effort pushed into law by the Obama administration in 2010. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative helps states and local communities clean up toxic hotspots, restore habitats for wildlife, fight invasive species and cut back on toxic runoff into the lakes.

Locally, funds from the program have been used to clean up the Buffalo River. All three local members of the House – Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo; Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence; and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning – were cosponsors of the bill to extend the program.

The head of the Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency charged with managing and developing the region’s water resources, said the good work done by the restoration effort must be continued.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is generating important economic and environmental improvements in communities across the region,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. “So far 2,900 restoration projects have been implemented, but more work is needed to complete our restoration program, which is projected to generate $50 billion in long-term economic benefits for our region.”

Environmentalists were equally thrilled with the bill’s passage.

“We thank the U.S. House for passing a bill that is vital to the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “So we urge the U.S. Senate to act swiftly so that the nation continues its commitment to the Great Lakes. We can’t afford to stop now. Restoration projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.”