TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — President Barack Obama, if re-elected, would
continue a program that has pumped more than $1 billion into Great Lakes
protection during his first term, although it’s uncertain how much money
will be available in the future, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Carol Browner, the president’s former energy and climate adviser and a
previous Environmental Protection Agency chief, also said a second Obama
administration would push ahead with efforts to prevent Asian carp from
reaching the Great Lakes.
But she said it was too early to take a position on placing barriers in
Chicago-area waterways to block the carp’s path to Lake Michigan, a step
favored by most states in the Great Lakes region but opposed by Illinois and
local business groups.
“The president does take his responsibilities toward the Great Lakes very
seriously,” Browner said during a candidates’ forum that wrapped up the
annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland. More than 600
environmental activists, business leaders and government officials were
registered to attend.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign did not send a representative
to the forum, although organizers said earlier this week that both sides had
been invited and would take part. Spokesman Christopher Maloney said in an
email that scheduling conflicts prevented the Romney campaign from
participating. He said Romney would continue “restoration efforts” if
elected but offered no details.
Obama’s administration kicked off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in
2009 to deal with longstanding problems that scientists say are causing
ecological damage and harming the region’s economy. The lakes make up 95
percent of the nation’s surface freshwater and supply more than 30 million
people with drinking water.
Congress has approved Obama’s requests totaling more than $1 billion for the
program. It has funded hundreds of projects to fight invasive species,
restore wildlife habitat, clean up toxic hot spots and prevent runoff that
causes harmful algae blooms. But supporters say more is needed.
Obama has pledged to fund the initiative at least through 2014, and
presidential counselor Pete Rouse said in February the administration was
“interested in continuing” it even longer.
“The president has a very strong record and I think it is very fair to
assume he will continue this commitment, he will continue to build on it,”
Browner said Thursday. But with the prospect of deep across-the-board cuts
if Congress and the president don’t strike a deficit reduction deal after
the election, it’s premature to promise a specific amount of money, she
Browner said Obama is awaiting results of an Army Corps of Engineers study
before deciding whether to support severing a century-old, man-made
connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds at
Chicago. The administration has promised a report by the end of 2013.
"It wouldn’t be appropriate for anybody to prejudge the outcome,” Browner
Maloney, the Romney spokesman, said the Obama administration is moving too
“As president, Governor Romney will accelerate the Army Corps process and
ensure that they develop a plan as soon as possible to protect both the
ecology and economy of the region,” he said.
Five states — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are
suing the federal government to separate the two water systems. A study this
year by groups representing the region’s states and cities proposed several
methods of doing so, with costs ranging up to $9.5 billion.
Opponents say separation would disrupt shipping and boost flooding in the