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5 governors push presidential candidates to aid Great Lakes

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks on Friday at a session of the National Governor's Association conference in Salt Lake City. Five Democratic governors of states in the Great Lakes region want candidates seeking to run in the presidential election next year to back a plan meant to protect freshwater resources. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks on Friday at a session of the National Governor’s Association conference in Salt Lake City. Five Democratic governors of states in the Great Lakes region want candidates seeking to run in the presidential election next year to back a plan meant to protect freshwater resources. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

By JOHN FLESHER
AP Environmental Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Five Democratic governors of states in the Great Lakes region on Monday called on candidates seeking to be part of the presidential election next year to support a plan meant to protect their shared waters by boosting federal spending on treatment plants and environmental cleanups.

Led by Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, the governors proposed a six-point plan to deal longtime scourges such as invasive species and harmful algae blooms, as well as the emerging threat of toxic PFAS chemicals. It also seeks to support commercial shipping by improving ports and other infrastructure in the world’s largest freshwater network.

Whitmer told The Associated Press the plan’s release was timed to draw attention to issues affecting the lakes ahead of Democratic debates scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Detroit. But she said the governors also hoped for support from Republican President Donald Trump.

“These are not Democratic or Republican issues,” Whitmer said. “This is about protecting this incredibly important resource that you can’t live without.”

In addition to Whitmer, the plan drew backing from Govs. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Tim Walz of Minnesota, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

Whitmer said she has spoken the region’s other three governors — Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York and the Republicans Mike DeWine of Ohio and Eric Holcomb of Indiana — but they declined to sign on.

Whitmer said DeWine’s staff had provided “a lot of input” as the policy was developed, despite his reluctance to endorse it publicly.

“I simply think it’s a political concern,” Whitmer said. “I know we’ve worked very closely on those policies and that’s why I feel comfortable pushing this out. I know there is bipartisan support for this agenda.”

A message seeking comment was left with DeWine’s office.

Trump’s record on Great Lakes issues is mixed. His budget plans have called for slashing or eliminating money for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-year plan to prevent species invasions, clean up polluted harbors and river mouths, reduce nutrient runoff that feeds toxic algae and restore wildlife habitat. Congress has consistently rejected those proposals and maintained funding at $300 million annually.

The president’s latest spending plan in February proposed reducing the program’s funding for the next fiscal year to $30 million. But a month later, during a rally in Grand Rapids, he reversed course and pledged $300 million.

He also has supported the initial funding of a nearly $1 billion expansion of the Soo Locks, a crucial navigation link for vessels hauling iron ore and other commodities between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

The governors’ plan calls for slowly increasing the amount of money set aside for the restoration initiative to $475 million a year, along with tripling federal funding for drinking-water and wastewater-treatment projects.

It also requests funding for a plan to strengthen defenses against invasive Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois and help with reducing the nutrient pollution of the western Lake Erie basin by 40 percent by 2025.

Another proposal seeks an increase in federal funding and standards to deal with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are thousands of toxic chemicals used in products ranging from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant fabrics and firefighting foam. The compounds, which federal toxicologists have linked to health problems, have been detected in many drinking water systems.

“The Great Lakes are a vital natural resource to our entire nation, and ensuring American families have access to clean drinking water and a safe waterway system that supports our economy should be a priority for our next president,” Pritzker said.

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