Some good news emerged this week in the effort to improve Great Lakes restoration funding in the 2012 House Interior-EPA funding bill. The House passed an amendment offered by Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) to add $50 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. His amendment passed the House 220 to 206. See how your member voted here.
That boosts Great Lakes funding in the Interior spending bill from $250 million to $300 million – a significant increase that allows more projects that protect drinking water, public health, and quality of life for people throughout the region to be funded.
“This is a huge victory for the Great Lakes, which contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. We need to make sure we protect this valuable resource,” LaTourette said.
There’s just one issue: The funding increase could be a mirage for most of the Great Lakes states. As long as Rep. LaTourette’s ballast provision remains in the spending bill, six-of-eight Great Lakes states— including LaTourette’s home state of Ohio – are at risk of losing tens of millions of dollars of federal funding.
Why? Because they’re taking action to protect their water quality and economy from the onslaught of invasive species introduced through ballast water of foreign ships. Any state like Ohio that enacts more protective standards than the ineffective federal standards are in danger of losing all EPA funding.
The ballast provision could set back restoration efforts by delaying critical protections to prevent new species from invading the Great Lakes through ballast water and causing more damage to the environment.
The provision also sells out the Great Lakes to an industry that has fought tooth and nail against cleaning up its act. For years, shippers made excuses for inaction while continuing to dump biological pollution into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters that caused incredible economic and environmental damage. Federal public officials were complacent, doing nothing to stop the onslaught even as invasive species such as the zebra mussel spread across the country.
People, small businesses, communities and utilities were left to foot the bill. Economists estimate that the cumulative damage of invasive species in the Great Lakes in the billions of dollars—with the annual tab of at least $200 million in damages and control costs.
The shipping industry is back, working with public officials like Rep. LaTourette to escape accountability for polluting U.S. waters. The new wrinkle is that the shipping industry wants to cut states off from funds that, ironically, are being used in part to clean up the mess the shipping industry made in the first place.
In short, it’s one big ballast boondoggle.
Until this disastrous provision is stripped from the bill, our Great Lakes restoration scorecard in the Interior bill reads: one step forward and two steps – if not more – back.
It’s important to remember that the ballast provision and restoration funding comprise only a portion of the interior bill, which, as a whole, still stinks. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding—even with the recent boost—remains far below 2010 funding levels of $475 million. Other essential programs – namely the Clean Water State Revolving Fund which helps communities stop sewage contamination into area waters – suffer huge cuts as well. Throw in the poisonous provisions in the bill which undermine clean water protections and hamper professionals at the EPA from doing their jobs, then there’s only one conclusion: This bill needs to be opposed, sent back to the drawing board and rewritten.