DETROIT (AP) – The Obama administration will target nine polluted harbors for accelerated cleanups under a program to heal the ailing Great Lakes, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jackson said the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will focus on three major problem areas in the next couple of years: contaminated river mouths, invasive species and watersheds choked with phosphorus that causes massive algae blooms. Among the priorities will be putting cleanups of toxic “areas of concern” on the fast track, she said.
“These are literally cleanups that certain people have spent their career on,” Jackson said prior to a speech during a Great Lakes conference.
The U.S. and Canada designated 43 polluted areas for special attention in 1987, but only four have been completed and dropped from the list.
Jackson said in the 2012 fiscal year EPA will step up work on the Sheboygan River in Wisconsin, White Lake and River Raisin in Michigan and the Ashtabula River in Ohio. Areas to be targeted in 2013 include Deer Lake, the Manistique River, the St. Marys River and the St. Clair River in Michigan and Waukegan Harbor in Illinois.
The federal government has pumped $775 million into the Great Lakes restoration program the past two years and President Barack Obama has requested $350 million for the next year. Advocates say billions will need to be spent over many years to deal with some of the lakes’ most pressing environmental problems.
Jackson said she was optimistic that Congress would continue funding the program even while cutting spending elsewhere to reduce the deficit.
“The president’s commitment to the Great Lakes and the idea of Great Lakes restoration remains strong,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so it’s probably reasonable for us to be able to show over time … measureable progress, real results. And I think as long as we do that, we’ll be able to successfully argue to Congress that this is money well spent.”
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