Special Topics in Environmental Management

A Bipartisan Appeal to Keep Great Lakes Funding

Democrats and Republicans comprise a group of 63 House lawmakers who have written to the heads of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies requesting that about $300 million in funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) be included in the 2018 federal budget, the same amount included in the 2017 federal appropriations.

WOTUS / river
Documents leading up to the White House’s formal budget submission to Congress indicate President Donald Trump’s intention to eliminate all federal funding to the GLRI, along with the program’s 71 full-time employees, and returning full responsibility for the initiative to state and local entities. The president has also indicated his intention to ask for the elimination of federal support for environmental programs for other major water bodies, including Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

90 Percent of U.S. Fresh Water

The GLRI was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the system of lakes holding 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and 90 percent of all U.S. freshwater. Goals of the GLRI include cleaning up toxics, combating invasive species, promoting nearshore health, and restoring wetlands and other habitats.

The lawmakers note that since the initiative was started, GLRI funds have been used to support over 3,000 restoration projects, a $2.2 billion investment. This work includes successful cleanup up of six toxic areas of concern and putting up the most important line of defense in preventing Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan.

“The GLRI is showing real and measurable results, but there is still a great deal of work to do,” states the letter. “The Great Lakes Basin is vulnerable to various pollutants and invasive species, which threaten the health of the Great Lakes. For example, in 2014, a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie forced 400,000 residents in the Toledo area to go without home water service for three days. While the GLRI has prioritized monitoring efforts, which help drinking water treatment plant operators and beach managers minimize health impacts associated with these toxic algal blooms, more must be done to better understand and prevent these algal blooms in the future.”

National Priority

“Though the Trump Administration may not view the GLRI as a national priority, this group of Members most certainly does,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), one of the leaders drafting the letter and acquiring signatures. “We shouldn’t abandon states in the effort to restore the Great Lakes, but instead continue to ensure national coordination through the GLRI. Congress must continue to fully fund this important program so that the entire region can reap the benefits of the Great Lakes.”

Gov. Walker Joins the Call

Republicans opposing the proposed GLRI defunding included Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who noted that the Great Lakes is a critical regional economic engine. Last month, Wisconsin’s Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin wrote to Walker, asking if he supported federal defunding of the GLRI. Baldwin noted that the GLRI investment is expected to produce nearly $12 billion in benefits from tourism, fishing, and recreation basinwide.

The letter from House lawmakers is here.