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Source: YNN Buffalo

Higgins introduces legislation to protect the Great Lakes

It's a day focused on the environment, and Congressman Brian Higgins honored Earth Day this year by announcing new legislation to protect one of Western New York's most important resources. YNN's Kaitlyn Lionti tells us about the bill and why Higgins says it will help preserve the Great Lakes.

Posted: April 23, 2013
Originally Published: April 22, 2013

Jill Jedlicka of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Congressman Brian Higgins, and CCE's Brian Smith.

Jill Jedlicka of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Congressman Brian Higgins, and CCE's Brian Smith.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "The resurgence of Buffalo's Inner and Outer Harbor along Lake Erie illustrate the importance of the relationship between the health of the Great Lakes and our community's economic future," said Congressman Brian Higgins.

But Congressman Higgins said that health is being threatened by nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants. He said they produce toxic algae blooms that create dead zones in the water.

"This is a growing problem and is leading to more recreational advisories that shut down swimming beaches and affect the Great Lakes' fishery," said Higgins.

So Higgins introduced the Great Lakes Nutrient Removal Assistance Act on Monday. It's legislation that would authorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide $500 million in grant funding to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in the Great Lakes with nutrient removal technology.

"We're calling on Congress to act, because the longer we wait, the worse the problems will get, and the more expensive the solutions will become," said Brian Smith, program and communications director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

"In New York State alone, there is a $2 billion sport fishery that supports 12,000 jobs. And in addition, recreational boaters provide $600 million of economic impact," said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

Higgins said many of the treatment plants are run by municipalities - and the legislation would be a financial incentive to make the upgrades.

"It also utilizes cost-sharing with states or municipalities, dictating that the federal share is not to exceed 55 percent of each project, to make federal dollars go even further," said Higgins.

The legislation currently has seven co-sponsors, including Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, and Higgins says it will have bi-partisan support.