The Great Lakes may finally see some of the restoration they require. After months in a congressional committee, President Barack Obama’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which requests millions of dollars for the protection and restoration of the lakes, is under consideration in Congress. Because the lakes support most of the region, it’s imperative that they be nurtured. Congress should pass this initiative and ensure that the budget is allocated to the regional authorities who best understand how to spend it.

Obama’s 2010 fiscal budget asked for $475 million to be allocated to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This amount would push annual federal spending on the Great Lakes past $1 billion. The initiative targets the restoration of coastlines, protection of wildlife and elimination of contaminants. To ensure that these objectives are met, $65 million has been earmarked for evaluating and monitoring the initiative’s progress.

If Congress approves this bill, its ecological benefits would be substantial. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the current level of phosphorous and algae blooms in the Great Lakes is dangerously high, which negatively impacts wildlife and reduces water supply. These pollutants are among those targeted by the bill’s restoration efforts.

The Great Lakes are worth this fight because economic improvements are greatly influenced by ecological conditions. The industries based around the Great Lakes, such as transportation, communications and trade, are the backbone of the regional economies and depend upon the condition of the lakes. For example, tourism — a major source of income for Michigan — would increase as a result of restoring the lakes and would help to revitalize local economies.

And because it’s local economies that feel the most direct impact of the state of the Great Lakes, this issue should be put in the hands of the Great Lakes states rather than the federal government. Local agencies have a better idea of what needs to be done and how to effectively do it than the more removed and less directly dependent federal government.

The Great Lakes have been neglected for too long. To protect this environmental and economic resource, Congress needs to pass this initiative swiftly so the regional governments can get to work.

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