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Lakes advocates express relief

TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WASHINGTON — Funding for Great Lakes restoration will tumble from $475 million last year to $300 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 — but that's good news in a way, an advocacy group said Thursday.


The nonprofit group Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition expressed relief that a spending bill passed in the House, and nearing enactment, preserved more funding for Great Lakes restoration than House Republicans initially proposed.


The group urged no more reductions, although that appears unlikely if lawmakers' tendency toward spending cuts accelerates for the next fiscal year.


"Our goal now is to work with Congress to protect funding to Great Lakes programs in the 2012 budget that protect drinking water, create jobs, safeguard public health and uphold the quality of life for millions of people," Jeff Skelding, the group's campaign director, said in a news release. "If we can't maintain the funding now, it will only cost more later because restoring the Great Lakes will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait."


Rep. William L. Owens, D-N.Y., voted for the spending bill. In commenting on it Wednesday, he said it was "reasonable" in light of the need to spread funding reductions throughout the government.


In a news release Thursday, he said, "I am pleased to see compromise on this budget, which will keep critical government services running for Upstate New Yorkers."


He also noted that it prevents any interruption in funding for the military.


Mr. Owens was one of 81 Democrats to vote for the measure, against 108 who opposed it.


Republicans supported it with 179 in favor and 59 opposed, meaning House Speaker Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, did not have enough votes from his own party to pass the bill, which averts a government shutdown until at least October. That is when the next fiscal year begins.


Mr. Skelding said the 2011 budget nearing completion provides important funding, though the scaled-back funding "means that it will take longer and cost more to get the job done."


Total funding will be slightly less than $300 million because of a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut being applied to non-defense programs, the group reported.


An earlier proposal from House Republicans cut the Great Lakes program to $225 million.


In addition, the measure cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, also used for Great Lakes protection, by 27 percent, to $1.53 billion. The earlier GOP budget proposal included a 67 percent reduction.

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