By JOHN FLESHER
AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. House approved a five-year extension Tuesday of a Great Lakes cleanup program that has pumped more than $1.6 billion into removing toxins, battling invasive species and making progress on other longstanding environmental threats.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has drawn rare bipartisan support in Congress since President Barack Obama started it in 2010. It has provided money for about 2,200 grants for water quality projects across the eight-state region.
Among them: dredging sediments laced with chemical pollution; preventing invasive Asian carp from reaching the lakes; rebuilding wetlands and other wildlife habitat; and preventing runoff from farms and sewage plants that causes noxious algae blooms like those that fouled the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, this summer.
The measure cleared the House on a voice vote and now goes to the Senate, where supporters hope it will pass in the session’s waning days.
It would authorize spending $300 million during each of the next five years, although annual votes would be required to secure appropriations.
“Congress must remain a full partner in the restoration effort in the Great Lakes, and authorizing this initiative is the best way to do that,” said Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill introduced by Rep. David Joyce, an Ohio Republican.
The plan is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which in September released a blueprint for the next phase. In addition to continuing existing priorities, including accelerated cleanups of toxic industrial sites, it would require projects beginning in 2017 to consider effects of climate change.
Officials also pledged to evaluate how well projects are meeting short-term objectives in addition to long-range goals such as making fish safe to eat and waters clean enough for swimming.
“This bill is good for the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their drinking water, jobs and way of life,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It will help keep restoration efforts on track and benefit the region’s environment and economy.”Follow @JohnFlesher