Obama proposes $5B trust fund for Great Lakes

Great Lakes
The Great Lakes.
Image courtesy of Sea Grant MSU

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign says the presidential candidate would propose a $5 billion trust fund to clean up and restore the Great Lakes if he's elected.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, several surrogates for the Illinois Democrat said the fund is meant to protect the Great Lakes from pollution and invasive species.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said the trust fund is the cornerstone of a larger plan to oversee Great Lakes programs. She said Obama is better equipped to handle Great Lakes issues than Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, because Obama comes from a Great Lakes state.

"He's on a Great Lake, and he didn't start talking about the Great Lakes when he started running for president," Klobuchar said. "He has been a consistent supporter of the Great Lakes, and he has spearheaded efforts and led the way on clean up and restoration for years."

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Obama would pay for the trust fund by increasing taxes on oil companies. It would support a variety of projects including sewage system repairs, cleanup of polluted sediments and restoration of wetlands and wildlife habitat.

The Great Lakes coordinator, based in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would help develop a priority list for federal, state and local initiatives.

Obama's program also pledges a "zero toxics" policy for the lakes, which make up nearly one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water. It calls for measuring pollution already entering the lakes, determining the sources and reducing future deposits.

Another priority would be strengthening federal standards against mercury, a leading Great Lakes pollutant, the campaign said.

The plan also promises a more aggressive effort to prevent additional exotic species from reaching the lakes, particularly the Asian carp, which has infested the Mississippi River and is moving toward Lake Michigan.

It says Obama would work with the eight Great Lakes states to stop freighters from bringing exotics to the region in their ballast water. Scientists believe many of the 180 invaders now in the lakes arrived in ship ballast tanks.

Foreign creatures such as the zebra mussel and round goby compete with native species for food and habitat and cost the regional economy billions.

A spokesman for John McCain's campaign said the Arizona senator is committed to cleaning up the Great Lakes, but doesn't want to get into a debate on which candidate will spend more on the cleanup. He said the focus should be on which candidate is best equipped to get results.

Several Great Lakes states are considered battlegrounds in this year's presidential election, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)