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Obama delivers, doesn't deliver, for Lake Erie

Tom Jackson • Apr 22, 2013 at 5:37 AM

In looking at President Obama's new budget proposal, environmentalists see good news and bad news. 

The good news: Despite pressure to make cuts in the federal budget, the president is seeking another $300 million to continue his Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which funds projects to clean up the Great Lakes. This would be the same funding level as last year.

The bad: The president proposes slashing the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund by more than 25 percent. Since the fund helps finance sewage system upgrades, this would directly affect efforts to improve the water in the Great Lakes, environmentalists say. 

Chad Lord, policy director for Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, and Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, talked about the president's proposals in a phone call Monday with reporters.

The president can of course offer proposals for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but it's Congress that makes the ultimate decision and appropriates the money. 

Environmentalists will concentrate on lobbying Congress, Brammeier and Lord said, and they're asking Great Lakes-area lawmakers to step up as they have in the past.

By proposing another $300 million, the president seeks to maintain the momentum for a program that has funded projects to clean up toxic pollution, protect the health of fish and wildlife, protect the lakes from invasive species and lessen pollution from runoff from cities and farms, Lord said. 

The program has spent more than $1.36 billion over the last four years.

The president is proposing $1.095 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, down more than 25 percent from the 2012 appropriation of $1.468 billion. The Obama administration is using 2012 numbers for its budget comparisons because of the effects of sequestration on the current budget, and because the budget was only recently resolved, according to Lord's group.

The loan fund provides low-interest loans to communities seeking to upgrade wastewater treatment systems.

If the proposed cut goes through, Ohio's share of loan money would go from $82.5 million in 2012 to $61.5 million in 2014, a reduction of almost $21 million, according to figures from the Healing Our Waters group.

Aging sewer systems must be improved to curtail sewage overflows and make Great Lakes water cleaner, Brammeier said.

The timing of the proposed cut is unfortunate, as climate change is expected to produce more severe rainstorms, which would cause more sewage overflows and increase runoff from city streets and farm fields, Lord said.

Heavy rains from intense storms were blamed as the main culprit for the large harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie during 2011.

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