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Bush wants money for study of Everglades

The Bush administration is asking Congress for $1.1-million to study mercury pollution in the Everglades and the disappearance of South Florida wetlands, the Environmental Protection Agency chief announced Friday.

The program, called the South Florida Initiative, follows a task force report outlining the region's problems, said William Reilly, who flew to Miami to make the announcement.

It includes stepped-up enforcement of federal environmental laws, he said.

"We will do our part," said Reilly. "I am confident that the strategies developed here will serve to protect and restore the environment of South Florida."

Ben Beach, Washington spokesman for the Wilderness Society, one of many groups making up the Everglades Coalition, applauded the project's goals, but questioned the commitment.

"It sounds like they're on the right wavelength," he said. "The longer we wait, the more serious the problems become. We've got to get moving, but I'm not sure $1.1-million qualifies."

The EPA task force drew attention to the shrinkage of the Everglades, now only 64 percent its historic size because of development. Wetlands in general in Florida have been reduced by 32 percent because of drainage and land conversions, and the loss "is continuing at a high rate."

The task force also said it would help the state of Florida look at the causes of mercury contamination that has a million acres under fish consumption advisories, and may be hurting the endangered Florida panther and other animal species as well.