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Conservation Groups: Clean Water, Great Lakes Protections Under Attack

July 26, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The programs that ensure clean water and protect Lake Erie are under assault on Capitol Hill, according to conservation groups. Legislation that covers U.S. House Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spending could come up for a vote as early as this week.

Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says it guts funding for programs to restore the Great Lakes and prevent sewage contamination.

"Some of it's cloaked in this whole larger discussion about deficits and spending cuts, but in reality it's a misguided attack on fundamental protections for public health, clean water, communities and people."

He says the bill cuts hundreds of millions in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from programs that clean up toxic pollution, restore habitat, fight invasive species and prevent sewage overflows. Ohio would lose more than $46 million.

Supporters of the deep cuts say they're needed to curb spending, but conservation groups say they'll cost more in the long run, by jeopardizing the Great Lakes' recovery as a natural and economic resource.

The bill also includes a provision introduced by Representative Steve LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, that would prohibit any state from receiving EPA funding if it has ballast water rules in effect that are stricter than the federal rules.

Jennifer Nalbone, director of navigation and invasive species with the group Great Lakes United, says that funding is used to create jobs.

"That's work such as upgrading sewage treatment plants, improving drinking water facilities, monitoring air quality, cleaning up brown fields, so this funding is absolutely critical to the health of Ohio citizens as well as for jobs."

Nalbone says that, in the absence of any strong national standard, states should have the right to protect their waters from the damage caused by aquatic invasive species.

The bill also keeps the EPA from enforcing some parts of the Clean Water Act.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH