Federal programs designed to make headway on some of the Great Lakes' most longstanding ecological problems, from harbors caked with toxic sludge to the threat of an Asian carp attack, would lose about 80 percent of their funding under a spending plan approved Tuesday by a Republican-controlled U.S. House panel.
The measure would cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has enjoyed bipartisan support since Pres. Obama established it in 2009, based on a priority list endorsed four years earlier by Pres. Bush. Also targeted for a drastic reduction is a low-interest loan fund that helps local governments upgrade aging sewage treatment systems.
The rollbacks are part of a broader spending bill that would implement the second year of "sequestration" cuts required after Congress failed to agree on a budget. The House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee sent the measure to the full Appropriations Committee.
The bill-- one of 12 under consideration to fund day-to-day operations of government -- could be revised substantially during negotiations this fall and likely would face a veto if it cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Even during a time of belt tightening, he said, "what's mystifying to me is these programs seem to be singled out for disproportionate treatment."
After an initial $475 million in 2009, the restoration initiative has gotten about $300 million a year, although this year's total has fallen to $285 million because of across-the-board cuts. The subcommittee bill would slash the 2014 allocation to just $60 million.
The Great Lakes region historically has received about one-third of the money in the federal loan fund for sewer repairs. Sewer overflows cause local officials to order beach closings each year because of E. coli bacteria contamination. The bill would reduce the fund from just over $1 billion this year to $250 million in 2014.
"When we first saw these numbers, I could only surmise that perhaps somebody had miscounted and thought there was only one Great Lake," said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
Ironically, the subcommittee's action came the same day that a bipartisan group of House members introduced legislation that would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Environmental Protection Agency office that oversees Great Lakes programming.
"The Great Lakes is one of the jewels of the United States and it's imperative we protect it for its environmental significance but also because of its economic might," Rep. Dave Joyce, an Ohio Republican and member of the subcommittee, said in a news release announcing the bill introduction. "Studies have shown more than 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to these five lakes, generating $62 billion in wages."
A spokeswoman for Joyce told The Associated Press he will offer an amendment next week during a meeting of the full committee that would "significantly" boost Great Lakes spending. Another Republican, Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, co-chairwoman of the House Great Lakes Task Force, said she didn't support the subcommittee's cuts and would push to restore funding.
The restoration initiative has pumped about $1.3 billion into projects across the eight-state region that have helped scrape away contaminated harbor sediments, restored wildlife habitat and sought to curb runoff that causes harmful algae. It also has supported efforts to ward off an invasion by the dreaded Asian carp, which compete with native species for food.
Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican and the subcommittee chairman, said the bill "makes very difficult choices in an extremely tough budget environment. In order to fund critical `must-do' priorities, like human health, public safety, and treaty obligations and responsibilities, we've had to reduce and even terminate some programs that are popular with both members of Congress and the American people."
Are Ontario and Erie Lake Fish Safe?
Hear From Capt. Jim Hanley
of Lake Erie Fishing Charters
See the NYS Dept. Of Environmental Conservation Guideline
NYS Environmental Conservation officials are expected to tour the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant Wednesday after a major failure.
Untreated sewage is pouring into the Niagara River near the Rainbow Bridge, as a result of heavy rains overwhelming the system.
Buffalo's Early News In-Studio, In Depth:
Why Are Beaches Closing So Often?
What are the risks and dangers ?
Hear WBEN's John Zach and Susan Rose with Dr. Gale Burstein, MD., Erie County Health Commissioner
Wilson, NY (WBEN) It's no secret in Western New York: when the rains come, beaches close because of high bacteria levels in the water. It's happened often this year at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park.
"We've had a few more incidents (of excess bacteria levels) this year, probably because of the extensive rainfall in May and June this year, and that's caused a lot of our beaches to exceed more quickly," says Karen Terbush, an environmental analyst with the New York State Parks.
She says all beaches are sampled once a week, and are closed when bacteria levels exceed EPA or State Health Department standards. Swimming in waters with high bacterial levels can be dangerous.
"There are a number of recreational water illnesses you can contract as a result of swimming in dirty water," warns Terbush.
She says Wilson-Tuscarora's beaches are being sampled more often now as part of an EPA grant on sanitary surveys. "We're sampling four days a week, and we'll be looking very closely at the watershed that surrounds the beach to spot any pollution source that may pollute the beach," notes Terbush.
She says the results will be sent to regulatory agencies to see if anything can be done to remediate those sources.
From The NYS Dept. Of Environmental Conservation:
Advisories for Lake Erie
Women under the age of 50 and children under the age of 15 are advised to eat up to four meals per month of chinook salmon under 19 inches, burbot, freshwater drum, lake whitefish, rock bass and yellow perch; and eat up to one meal per month of all other fish from Lake Erie.
Women over 50 years and men over 15 years of age can eat up to four meals per month of any Lake Erie fish species.
Advice for Women and Children Eating fish from Adirondack and Catskill Waters
Certain larger, older fish in the Adirondack & Catskill Mountain regions often contain relatively high levels of mercury in their flesh. Because of this, children under 15 and women under 50 should NOT EAT yellow perch longer than 10", northern pike, pickerel, walleye, largemouth bass or smallmouth bass from Adirondack & Catskill region waters.
The advisory to eat up to four meals per month applies for yellow perch less than 10", brook, brown and rainbow trout, bullhead, bluegill/sunfish, rock bass & crappie because these fish tend to have lower mercury levels. Children under 15 & women under 50 should NOT EAT fish from any waters listed on the chart above
Tips for Healthier Eating
1. Choose sportfish from waterbodies that are not listed on the chart above
2. When deciding which sportfish to eat, choose smaller fish, consistent with DEC regulations, within a species since they may have lower contaminant levels. Older (larger) fish within a species may be more contaminated because they have had more time to accumulate contaminants in their bodies.
3. To reduce exposures to mercury, avoid or eat less largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, pickerel, walleye and larger yellow perch (e.g., longer than 10 inches) because these fish tend to have higher mercury levels.
4. To reduce exposures to PCBs, dioxin, mirex, DDT, chlordane and dieldrin, avoid or eat less American eel, bluefish, carp, chinook and coho salmon, lake trout, striped bass, weakfish, white and channel catfish, and white perch, because these fish tend to have higher levels of these contaminants.
5. When preparing sportfish, use a method of filleting the fish that will remove the skin, fatty material and dark meat. These parts of the fish contain many of the contaminants.
6.When cooking sportfish, use cooking methods (broiling, grilling and baking) which allow contaminants from the fatty
portions of fish to drain out. Pan-frying is not recommended. The cooking liquids and fat drippings of fish should be discarded since these liquids may contain contaminants.
7. Do not eat the soft “green stuff” (mustard, tomalley, liver or hepatopancreas) found in the body section of crab and lobster. This tissue can contain high levels of chemical contaminants, including PCBs, dioxin and heavy metals.
8. Anglers who want to enjoy the fun of fishing but who wish to eliminate the potential risks associated with eating contaminated sportfish may want to consider “catch and release” fishing.
9. Space out your fish meals so you don’t get too much exposure to chemicals at any given time. This is particularly important for women and young children.
10. Bacteria, viruses or parasites may be in or on fish. Keep harvested fish cold. Wear protective gloves when gutting, skinning and filleting. Wash hands and surfaces often when preparing fish, and keep raw foods separate. Cook fish and shellfish thoroughly before eating.