By JAMES PRICHARD, Associated Press Writer
MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - Christie Whitman, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, visited the Lake Michigan city of Muskegon on Tuesday to announce a new Bush administration plan that she says will help protect and restore the Great Lakes.
After touring the EPA research vessel Lake Guardian, Whitman met with reporters to discuss the plan, called "Great Lakes Strategy 2002 -- A Plan for the New Millennium."
Whitman said it addresses the most serious problems facing the five lakes, including sediment contamination, invasive species, loss of habitat and the production of fish unsafe for human consumption.
The EPA says more than 30 million people receive their drinking water from the Great Lakes. The lakes have more than 600 beaches on U.S. shores.
The strategy was created by the Great Lakes U.S. Policy Committee, a partnership of senior environmental officials from federal, state and tribal agencies.
"Everyone who enjoys the Great Lakes can appreciate the goals the partnership has set to ensure that the Great Lakes basin is a healthy, natural environment for wildlife and people," Whitman said, speaking at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
Among the plan's objectives:
- Reduce the concentration of PCBs in lake trout and walleye by 25 percent by 2007;
- Restore or enhance 100,000 acres of wetlands in the Great Lakes basin by 2010;
- Substantially reduce by 2010 the further introduction of invasive species, both aquatic and land-based, to the basin's ecosystem;
- Speed up the pace of sediment re-mediation, leading to the cleanup of all contaminated sites, by 2025.
"We need to continue to be diligent, and we can't backslide on chemical contamination," said Russ Harding, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Harding said there continues to be "great concern" about invasive species.
Whitman also discussed President Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, a proposal that would set mandatory reductions in the emissions of three major pollutants from U.S. power plants.
The plan would replace some federal emissions regulations by imposing broad caps on three major power plant pollutants: sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain; nitrogen oxide, a precursor to smog; and mercury, a toxic chemical that contaminates waterways and up the food chain through fish to people. To ease the cost, utilities would be able to sell or trade pollution credits.
Soon after Bush announced it in mid-February, the emissions plan came under intense attack from environmental groups that see it as a step backward from goals set by Clean Air Act regulations already on the books.
Environmentalists argued that power plants, especially older ones that burn coal, would have to cut less pollution under Bush's plan than is projected under various EPA regulations already in effect or about to be issued under the Clean Air Act.
Whitman rejected such criticism and backed the emissions initiative, which needs congressional approval. She said its implementation would result in Americans experiencing tens of thousands of fewer cases of asthma and other chronic respiratory problems.