- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup program would escape President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut its funding under a compromise federal spending plan, members of Congress said Wednesday.

Obama established the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 to make progress on some of the freshwater seas’ biggest environmental problems, including invasive species, industrial pollution, loss of wildlife habitat and nutrient runoff that causes harmful algae blooms. It has received $300 million most years since then.

But the president has recommended cuts the past two years in the push to trim the budget deficit. Both times, lawmakers from the eight-state region have successfully lobbied colleagues to spare the program, which would remain at $300 million if the House and Senate approve a gigantic spending deal crafted by negotiators from both chambers. Votes are expected this week.

“This budget sends a strong message that Great Lakes restoration remains a top priority for the nation,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which represents 125 environmental groups, museums, aquariums and other organizations.

More than 2,500 grants totaling $1.6 billion have been distributed for projects ranging from restoration of dunes and wetlands to public education about invasive plants and fish. Progress has been made toward cleansing tributary rivers and harbors polluted with PCBs and other toxins.

The program also has supported short-term measures to prevent Asian carp from reaching the lakes. The pending legislation would order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work more quickly on additional steps and develop emergency procedures in case an invasion appears imminent.

Separately, the budget includes $1.39 billion for a clean-water fund that helps upgrade sewage treatment systems and prevent overflows. About $510 million would go to the Great Lakes region, which also would get a portion of more than $1 billion in a harbor maintenance fund.

“These resources will help … ensure the Great Lakes are healthy for the communities that rely on them for years to come,” said Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat.

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Follow John Flesher on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JohnFlesher

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