What Trump’s Budget Means for Great Lakes Restoration

By Todd Ambs, campaign director, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition


Restoration work makes progress on Detroit, Mich.’s Belle Isle. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Detroit River.

On Monday, the Trump Administration released its proposed budget for 2019, which runs from October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019. As was the case last year, the president’s proposed budget is a complete disaster for the Great Lakes and a non-starter for the millions of people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York who rely on the lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life.


The Trump Administration also released its infrastructure platform this week. You can read our initial thoughts here. We’ll have more to say on that in a few days.


In the meantime, here are some observations on the proposed Trump Administration budget.

  1. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget undermines Great Lakes restoration efforts. The budget, frankly, is a slap in the face to the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life. Federal investments over the last eight years have been instrumental in helping communities clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, fight invasive species like Asian carp, and reduce runoff pollution. Despite progress, serious threats remain. Cutting funding – or zeroing it out – will only make projects more expensive and complicated the longer we wait.
  2. The budget leaves Great Lakes states high and dry. To date, Great Lakes restoration has been a tremendous state-federal partnership—for good reason: Great Lakes restoration efforts tackle big problems that cost a lot of money. Upgrading, repairing and fixing the eight-state region’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure will cost an estimated $179 billion over the next 20 years. States cannot foot the bill alone. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water resources. They are a national treasure, clearly worthy of federal support as a partner to the states.
  3. Congress will likely ignore Trump’s drastic cuts. Congress still holds the purse strings, and there is a strong track record of bi-partisan support for many Great Lakes restoration programs. Republicans and Democrats in Congress ignored the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts last year—and will likely do so again. In fact, over the last four years, the U.S. Congress clawed back Great Lakes restoration funding after proposed cuts by U.S. House leadership, President Barack Obama (twice), and President Donald Trump. The bottom line is that federal public officials are firmly behind restoration efforts that are also backed by regional chambers of commerce, industry, cities, tribes, and the states themselves.
  4. We’re not out of the woods yet. While there is reason to be cautiously optimistic around restoring funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—the marquee $300 million-per-year program to clean up toxic pollution, restore habitat, fight invasive species, and reduce city and farm runoff pollution—plenty of threats remain. Near the top of the list is cutting funding for the agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others (such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program), which implement Great Lakes restoration activities. Cutting agency budgets will make it increasingly difficult to implement Great Lakes restoration activities efficiently and effectively if agencies have their legs kicked out from under them. Similarly, assaults on core clean water protections by the Trump Administration will sabotage Great Lakes restoration efforts.
  5. U.S. representatives and senators from the region will need to be a vocal voice for a suite of clean water issues—and not just for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Policy rollbacks, agency budget cuts, inadequate infrastructure funding, and other threats demand strong and vocal opposition if we are to finally provide all Americans with clean, safe drinking water. In short, the definition of what it means to be a champion of the Great Lakes is changing. There’s more to do, not less.


The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition will continue to be a strong voice for Great Lakes restoration and protection. We’ll be in Washington, D.C., March 7-8, with 100 Great Lakes advocates to make sure that restoring the lakes remains a top priority for the U.S. Congress.


By Todd Ambs, campaign director, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

Todd Ambs, Coalition Campaign Director

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