Congressional Support for GLRI: Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

photo presented at Hill News Conference

Despite a huge push by Great Lakes Members of the House of Representative to keep restoration funding at last year’s level, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment chose the President’s budget request for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – $300 million – over ours – $475 million that was appropriated last year. That represents a cut of nearly 40 percent. Times are tough, but every dollar we invest in Great Lakes restoration sustains and creates jobs in our region.

“We need to keep pace with the urgent threats facing the Great Lakes and that’s why it is imperative that Congress fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $475 million now and in the coming years,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition. “Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery hinge on a robust commitment by the federal government. Otherwise, the longer we wait, the problems will only get worse and the solutions more costly.”

Take the recent advance of the dreaded Asian carp as an example of what happens when we wait too long to invest in solutions.

Those voracious beasts have been heading up the Mississippi River for years, yet Congress failed to take the threat seriously until the non-native fish breached an electric fence designed to repel them away from Lake Michigan. In December, with news that the carp were knocking on the door to Lake Michigan, Congress and the Administration used $78 million of the $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds for emergency measures to stop the advance of the Asian carp.

So here’s a question for Congress and the White House: If GLRI funding remains at $300 million –hopefully not – will we continue to siphon restoration dollars to fight the carp?

Great Lakes restoration is premised on the nation injecting new money into the effort to restore the Lakes—not funding agency work that is a part of their existing mission. Ultimately, Great Lakes restoration—and economic recovery based on a health Great Lakes ecosystem—can only succeed by supplementing, not supplanting, existing restoration work. That means injecting government funds into successful programs that will deal with sewage contamination, clean up of a legacy of toxic sediments, fight the invasive species already in the lakes that cost communities $200 million-a-year and restore habitats that support our outdoor recreation economy.

Translation: GLRI dollars should be used on restoration and not filling in budget gaps in agency budgets.

We are not going to stop fighting for the full $475 million for the GLRI—and insist that the money go toward on-the-ground projects that are ready to go. There is an incredible backlog of work—all the more reason for the U.S. Senate to beef up funding for Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery.

“The need for increased Great Lakes restoration funding remains higher than ever,” said Skelding. “We look to the U.S. Senate to fund Great Lakes restoration at last year’s level, which better reflects the need for a healthy environment and economy.”

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