EPA hauls out scrub brushes for Great Lakes

The Bush administration announced a new plan yesterday to clean up and restore the Great Lakes.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said the plan addresses the most serious problems facing the five lakes, including sediment contamination, the proliferation of non-native species, loss of habitat, and the production of fish unsafe for eating.

The plan sets specific goals and calls for federal, state, and local officials to work more closely together. It includes monitoring contaminants in fish, requiring factories that discharge into the lakes to limit contaminants, enlisting cooperation from corporations, and tracking cleanup efforts implemented by state and local agencies.

"Everyone who enjoys the Great Lakes can appreciate the goals the partnership has set to ensure that the Great Lakes basin is a healthy, natural environment for wildlife and people," Ms. Whitman said in announcing the plan at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes field station in Muskegon, Mich.

No additional government funding has been set aside for the plan, said Steve Brandt, director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Lansing. The plan warned that more money could be needed to meet some of its objectives, but it did not give specifics.

Among the key goals:

• Reduce the concentration of PCBs in lake trout and walleye by 25 percent by 2007.

• Restore or enhance 100,000 acres of wetlands by 2010.

• Substantially reduce the introduction of non-native species by 2010.

• Speed up sediment cleanup, finishing all contaminated sites by 2025.

"I'm certainly optimistic, because at last this magnificent resource has caught the attention of the US EPA administrator," said Dave Dempsey of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing.

The plan, created by the Great Lakes US Policy Committee, a partnership among federal, state, and tribal agencies, outlines some efforts already under way.

"But what is new is that we have collaboration from many different state and federal agencies, and that's important – that we all agree on the goals," said Phillippa Cannon, an EPA spokeswoman in Chicago. She also noted that the plan sets deadlines for goals that previously were vague or did not exist.

The EPA says more than 30 million people receive their drinking water from the Great Lakes, and the lakes have more than 600 beaches on US shores.

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