Republicans and a handful of Tea Party candidates were swept into office last week, promising to cut federal spending and scale back the size of the federal government. Candidates pledged to wield the budget scythe to eliminate earmarks. Several beltway publications have indicated that GOP lawmakers would like to cut environmental programs—including the EPA’s regional water restoration initiatives.
Note to lawmakers—Republican and Democratic alike: The Great Lakes are not earmarks. They are national landmarks.
Making that case will be increasingly difficult, as seven Great Lakes champions are retiring or departing office in defeat in January. It is clear we need fresh bipartisan voices to champion our cause and educate the nation on the importance of restoration.
There is hope for new bi-partisan champions. Newly elected Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has been an advocate for Great Lakes restoration in the U.S. House of Representatives; perhaps he can take up the banner for Great Lakes restoration in the U.S. Senate. Newly elected Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has already voiced his support for action to keep the Asian carp out of the Lakes and to confront the algae crisis in Lake Erie; he could also provide an important voice for Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery now that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is retiring.
In the meantime, it would behoove the Great Lakes delegation to pass spending bills before the Holiday recess. At this moment, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Legacy Act have not been appropriated for FY2011.
Passing the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act would also greatly help to maintain the progress the nation is making to restore the Lakes. GLEPA authorizes several successful programs in one bill, including the Great Lakes Legacy Act at $150 million and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $475 million for the next five years. The initiative invests in programs to restore habitat, prevent and control invasive species, clean up toxic pollution, reduce farm and city runoff, restore wetlands and habitat, and fund the Great Lakes National Program Office that coordinates restoration efforts. The bill would accelerate efforts to confront historic and emerging threats while ensuring that restoration efforts are prioritized, science-based and transparent.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who introduced the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act last March, has said, “Nearly a tenth of our population lives in the Great Lakes basin, relying on the life-sustaining drinking water the lakes provide and reaping economic and recreational benefits from them daily.”
The senator’s comments underscore the point that Great Lakes programs are not earmarks – they support clean drinking water, job creation and the quality of life for millions of Americans. The bill has the benefit of bipartisan support probably because Great Lakes restoration programs are smart investments.
However, anticipating a tough go if we wait until the new session, the Healing Our Waters Campaign and the Great Lakes Task Force in Congress are circulating letters supporting swift congressional action on these Great Lakes issues in November. There is a chance that Members will filibuster to delay making any spending plans until after the Holidays. We can’t let this moment slip away; we have to defend these hard won dollars and the future economy of our region.