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EPA to Spend $2.2B on Cleaning Up Great Lakes

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend $2.2 billion over the next five years on cleaning up "toxic hotspots" at the Great Lakes, administrator Lisa Jackson announced in a press conference Sunday. "This initiative is about far more than funding," Jackson said. "It's about creating a new standard of care for the Great Lakes system."

The action plan comes in response to President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, announced last February, that made cleaning up the region a national priority. As part of the initiative, Obama proposed that $475 million in federal funds be directed toward the region, the most money dedicated to cleaning up the area in 20 years.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan was drafted by 16 federal agencies and announced at a meeting of governors from the Great Lakes states held before the Sunday press conference.

The plan covers the years 2010 to 2014, with $475 million going to the Great Lakes states this year, $300 million the next year and $475 million the remaining three years. Jackson said the agency's goal is to clean up five toxic hotspots by 2014.

The five focus areas of the plan are cleaning up the most polluted areas, combating invasive species, protecting high priority watershed and reducing runoff from urban, suburban and agricultural sources, restoring wetlands and other habitats, and implementing accountability measures, education, and strategic partnerships.

Jackson said safeguarding human health from toxins and educating the next generation of the importance of the lakes were among the top priorities of the plan. The Great Lakes provide drinking water to an estimated 30 million U.S. residents.

Jackson also announced a fight against invasive species and legacy sources of contamination.

"We will have a zero tolerance policy toward invasive species," Jackson said, adding that $60 million of the funds will be used to tackle the region's Asian carp problem.

The plan money will also be used to restore wetlands and other habitats, including the "first-ever assessment of the entire 530,000 acres of the Great Lakes coastal wetlands," Jackson said.

"The Great Lakes are renowned for their beaches, and the initiative funding will be targeted toward reducing pathogenic pollution so those beaches can stay open for people to enjoy," Jackson said.

"Instead of minimizing harm, our new standard of care is to leave the Great Lakes better for the next generation than the condition in which we inherited them," she said.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said the Great Lakes were the "center of commerce and recreation" for the region and they "define the character of our people." Doyle called the action plan a "smart and targeted use of resources."

Doyle said it was an "incredibly important day for the whole planet," noting that the lakes contain 25 percent of the world's fresh water.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said he was "glad it is an action plan and not a study."

Governors Doyle and Strickland are co-chairs on the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which is working with federal agencies and Canada on implementing the plan.

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