U.S. budget draft slashes funds for Great Lakes

Lake Erie [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]
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The Trump Administration could be proposing a 97 percent cut in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding when it unveils the federal budget later this month -- a move that is drawing harsh criticism from some regional officials.  The initiative is one of many Environmental Protection Agency programs in jeopardy.

According to a leaked list provided to Oregonian investigative journalist Rob Davis by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, the proposed funding for Great Lakes restoration would drop from $300 million a year to $10 million. Those funds support thousands of projects dedicated to cleaning up the Great Lakes.

The list also includes cuts for other EPA programs dedicated to environmental education, marine pollution and climate protection.

Mayors of Great Lakes cities, including Niagara Falls, N.Y., criticized the White House's draft budget cuts.

“It would be a tragedy for the U.S. government to step back from its commitment to the Great Lakes, a resource that is critically important to the economic well-being and quality of life of the region,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster in a release from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

The funding numbers have not been confirmed by the White House.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) was instrumental in passing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative renewal in December. He says he will fight to restore funding, as he did when President Obama proposed a $50 million dollar cut during his administration.

“We’re not going to let that happen, we’re going to continue to oppose cuts to the GLRI and we’re going to mobilize our voting forces to let them know that this isn’t going to stand,” said Joyce.

Environmental advocacy groups are speaking out against the proposed cuts, too.

“It is impossible for our nation’s leaders to fulfill campaign commitments to grow jobs, improve quality of life in our cities, and redevelop the economic strength of the Midwest without protecting the Great Lakes,” the Alliance for the Great Lakes said in a statement.

The list also includes complete budget cuts for several state grant programs, including money for beach water quality testing.

Shannon Briggs of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says beach water quality funds have been threatened before.  “In the past BEACH Act funds have been taken out and Congress has put money back into support monitoring at beaches,” said Briggs.

President Trump plans to increase military spending by 10 percent, and the EPA cuts would provide some of that funding.

“I certainly think we need to take care of our men and women bravely putting their lives on the line for our nation,” said Joyce. “I don’t have an issue with that, but not at the expense of having them come home to potentially no water or water supply.”

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said he and representatives from other states spoke with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Friday morning, requesting a chance to explain what cutting those services would mean. 

“We know budgets are tight,” said Butler.  “We were not expecting to see budgets increase.  They’ve been flat for several years, but to absorb a cut both in the GLRI program and our state grants that we rely on to do that federal work at [the state] level becomes very, very problematic.”

Others responding to the news include the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes CoalitionSen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI)Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), and the bi-national Great Lakes Commission.

The commission's executive director, Tim Eder, said in statement that "the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative protects the lakes, creates jobs, and serves as the most important line of defense against Asian carp getting into Lake Michigan. These potential cuts would be devastating for our region."

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