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Senate needs to follow the lead of the House and recommit to cleaning the Great Lakes

Efforts to restore the Great Lakes could be at risk of loss unless the U.S. Senate takes action.

The House passed by voice vote Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 2016, authorizing $300 million annually over the next five years. The Senate needs to do the same.

The presidential election season makes timing critical. The political flux that has been especially intense creates an even greater sense of urgency.

Advocates point out that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is funded through a strict appropriation and, without a long-term authorization, the program could be undermined by changing priorities. The concern centers on the next White House administration and congressional leadership.

Such valid observations should make anyone who cares about clean water – and that should be everyone – all the more nervous. There has been unequivocal bipartisan support around this initiative. Senators and congressmen of both parties represent the Great Lakes region and support this important work. Former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have been supporters. The victorious candidate in November’s election should be expected to offer the same level of support.

But there must be legislation for any president to sign, whether it is the lame-duck executive or one who has just taken the oath of office.

The Senate could support the House bill (HR 223) and may want to consider doing so. If not, members can pass a similar version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. That bill, (S.1024), would have to be reconciled with the House version.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a tremendous asset over the last seven years, with Congress investing more than $2.2 billion in more than 2,900 projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The Buffalo River has been restored thanks to nearly $170 million in funding from the initiative. It paid for dredging, toxic cleanup and habitat restoration. As an article in The News last October noted, it was the “program’s largest and most expensive project in the region.”

Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, noted that the initiative “… is arguably the most important federal environmental legislation to impact Western New York since the Clean Water Act of 1972.”

Reps. Tom Reed, R-Corning, Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, are co-sponsors of the House bill (HR 223).

Sen. Charles E. Schumer has been notably strong on water-quality issues. He and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were original co-sponsors of a bill by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., to reauthorize the GLRI until 2020 at the fully funded $475 million level.

The health of the Great Lakes is one of the top priorities for this region, not only for its economic prosperity but to protect residents’ health and well-being. It’s a critical effort that deserves bipartisan support to get the bill across the finish line.