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Source: The Buffalo News

Congress moving toward five-year commitment to continue Great Lakes cleanup


Posted: December 10, 2014
Originally Published: December 9, 2014

WASHINGTON – The federal government’s big-money commitment to restoring the Great Lakes is now almost certain to continue another five years thanks to House passage Tuesday of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative of 2014.

The bill, which passed by voice vote, authorizes $300 million in federal funding for each of the next five years for Great Lakes programs. The legislation, which is expected to be approved by the Senate and sent to President Obama for his signature later this week, establishes a path forward for a program that has brought $1.6 billion to the lakes since 2010.

The multi-agency effort has worked to clean up pollution, restore shorelines, combat invasive species and protect fish and wildlife, but Brian Smith, associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that’s just the start of the work that’s needed.

“From cleaning up the Buffalo River, to creating jobs, to ensuring clean drinking water for millions of people, the GLRI has proven to be a resounding success,” Smith said. “However, much more work remains. From cleaning up toxic hot spots, to addressing algal blooms in Lake Erie, to fighting invasive species such as the Asian carp, the work of the GLRI is not done.”

The effort has already brought $40 million to Buffalo for project such as the habitat restoration at Times Beach in Buffalo, dredging of the Buffalo Harbor, shoreline improvements along the Buffalo River at Riverbend, removal of contaminants from the river, a cleanup of Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park and green infrastructure investments along Niagara Street.

“We see a great multiplier effect with investments made in the Great Lakes,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who co-sponsored the bill along with Reps. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Tom Reed, R-Corning. “With each effort to preserve and improve the Great Lakes, we produce economic and environmental benefits for generations to come.”

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Fairport Democrat who co-chairs the House Great Lakes Task Force, sponsored the legislation.

The bill is significant because while Obama called for earlier Great Lakes funding and Congress has agreed, the money was never set in stone in an authorization bill. The new legislation does just that, carrying the commitment to the lakes beyond Obama’s presidency.

“It’s wonderful,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. “It’s also a validation of the success of this program, especially the cleanup of the Buffalo River, which is being held up as a national success story.”