WASHINGTON — Clean up of the Great Lakes would suffer sharply under President Donald Trump’s budget recommendation to eliminate the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative and its $300 million annual federal appropriation, officials from Great Lakes states said Friday.
Trump’s administration said the decision was part of effort to turn over “responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities."
However, members of Congress from both parties, local officials and environmental groups in the eight-state region pushed back at the notion the federal government has no role in helping preserve the iconic series of lakes. They said eliminating funding would not only damage the environment but cost jobs and lower property values.
“The Great Lakes are a national treasure similar to the Grand Canyon and it is not solely the responsibility of state and local governments to invest in their protection,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, a member of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, an organization that includes 128 mayors in the United States and Canada.
Local governments already contribute $15 billion through the initiative to preserve the lakes, Dyster said in a statement.
Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican who represents Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, also disputed the idea that preserving the Great Lakes is solely the responsibility of the states and communities that border them.
“They’re an asset not only to Michigan and the Great Lakes states, but to people and industries across the U.S.,” Bergman said in a statement opposing the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The program has spent $2.2 billion since its creation in 2009 to remove toxins from the lakes, fight invasive species, preserve natural habit and otherwise improve the quality of the five freshwater lakes.
According to its website, the initiative in the past five years has cleaned up enough contaminants to remove five bodies of water, including Ohio’s Ashtabula River, from being classified as an “area of concern.”
The initiative was planning to work on 10 other areas over the next five years: the Buffalo, Clinton, Grand Calumet, Manistique, Menominee, St. Clair, St. Mary’s and Raisin rivers, Muskegon Lake, and the Rochester Embayment.
Elimination of the program is included in the president’s preliminary budget that reduces spending by the Environmental Protection Agency by $2.6 billion, or 31 percent, during the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
Gail Philbin, director of the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter, described elimination of the Great Lakes program “a shocking abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.”
Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow was outraged by the prospect of eliminating the program. Her colleague, Sen. Gary Peters, also a Democrat, said the Great Lakes “provide drinking water to 40 million people and supports Michigan’s multi-billion dollar shipping, fishing and agricultural industries.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement that as a child, “I remember seeing how polluted Lake Erie was. We can’t put an end to our cleanup efforts when we’ve made such progress.”
Brown said abolishing the program would “cost Ohio jobs and jeopardize public health by putting the well-being of Lake Erie at risk” again.
Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman also opposed the budget proposal, saying the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative generates more than $80 billion in benefits in health, tourism, fishing, and recreation.
And, he added, a recent study also found it increases property values across the region by $12 billion.
Contact CNHI Washington reporter Kery Murakami at email@example.com.