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The US House of Representatives has authorized $55 million in federal spending over five years to protect Lake Champlain from environmental hazards. Lake supporters also are optimistic that full funding, or close to it, will be available after next year's budget battles.
Senator James Jeffords (I-Vt.), an author of the bill to protect the lake, and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the measure would help ''preserve the lake as a national treasure for generations to come.''
Members of Jeffords's staff said the program's chances of full funding are enhanced by the presence of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
''We usually work with him pretty closely on gathering the funding,'' said Erik Smulson, a Jeffords spokesman. ''We're upbeat that over time, we will be steadily increasing the funding we get for the program.''
Smulson said the funding amount would probably be around $10 million next year.
''This will be a priority for me during next year's funding cycle for the Environmental Protection Agency,'' Leahy said in a statement after the bill passed.
Each year, the House and Senate hash out 13 appropriations bills to provide funding for federal departments, agencies and projects.
This year's Senate version of the bill that allocates money to the EPA provided $3.3 million for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, an increase of $775,000 from 2002. Leahy also secured $5 million for reconstruction of the Missisquoi Bay Bridge on the lake.
But whether that additional funding will arrive is still up in the air, as Congress has completed only two of the 13 spending bills for fiscal year 2003, which began on Oct. 1. To avoid a government shutdown, the House voted to keep spending at levels of fiscal year 2002 through Jan. 11.
Lake Champlain, which borders Vermont, New York, and the Canadian province of Quebec, has been managed by a congressionally-mandated plan that coordinates pollution prevention between the federal government, the two states, surrounding localities, and Canada.
Bill Howland, manager of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, said that the funding would aim to minimize the effect of mercury, phosphorous-laden runoff and other pollutants on the lake.
Other programs would aim to stop the spread of nonnative ''nuisance species'' like water chestnut, Eurasian water milfoil, zebra mussels and sea lamprey that threaten the lake's ecosystem.