Clean Water Act Rule Highlights Big Week for Great Lakes

This week has been a busy and exciting one for the Great Lakes. A rule clarifying the extent of the Clean Water Act was released by the Obama Administration on Tuesday; sign on letters in the U.S. House and Senate are going around trying to gather support to increase Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding; the Environmental Protection Agency announced more Shoreline Cities Green Infrastructure grants; and yesterday the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy testified before the House Appropriations Interior subcommittee about the president’s 2015 budget. Read more about each, below.


Clean Water Act Rule

A view of Humbug Marsh, looking out onto the Detroit River. Photo from Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region.

A view of Humbug Marsh, looking out onto the Detroit River. Small streams and wetlands will have restored protections under the new Clean Water Act rule. Photo from Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region.

The Obama Administration released a rule on Tuesday that is a major victory in the effort to protect America’s water, clarifying protections for small streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The Waters of the United States rule has received a largely supportive reaction from the conservation community as a whole. Overall, the rule will be a big step forward in the effort to restore the Great Lakes streams and wetlands and, ultimately, the health of the Lakes themselves.

Read the statement from the HOW Coalition, from Ducks Unlimited, from Clean Water Action and their blog, from the Audubon Society, from the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, from the Izaak Walton League, from Trout Unlimited, and American Rivers. You may also read the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy’s Op-Ed about the new rule.

Congressional Support for the GLRI at $300 million is Building

Representatives in the House and members of the Senate have begun to express their support for funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million in fiscal year 2015. President Obama’s 2015 budget was released at the beginning of March and proposed cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $25 million. The letter urging the House Appropriations committee to provide $300 million for the initiative now has 41 cosigners. If you don’t see your Representative on this list, they have until today, Friday, March 28 to sign on.


A similar sign-on letter is circulating in the Senate indicating support for continued funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 in 2015. This GLRI support letter is bundled with other letters that impact Great Lakes issues including emergency action on Asian carp, maintaining the coastal zone management program, dredging, and fisheries programs. The Senate sign on letters have a deadline of Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Current cosigners include Senators: Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) has agreed to sign on to letter for emergency measures against Asian carp in the Chicago waterway. You may contact your Senators via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

EPA Administrator Testifies on the President’s 2015 budget

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified in front of the

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Gina McCarthy

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Gina McCarthy

House Appropriations Interior subcommittee on President Obama’s 2015 budget. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a member of the Great Lakes delegation whose district lies to the east of Cleveland, asked McCarthy about the funding cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.


Here is a transcript of an exchange from subcommittee member Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy starting around 1:52:17 in the video.

Representative Joyce: Madam Administrator…
Our investments in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are finally paying off.  Last year, Presque Isle, which is a Pennsylvania Area of Concern was delisted. In northeastern Ohio, where I represent, we have completed a project in the Ashtabula Area of Concern and—we’re either complete or nearing completion on. The work as been accelerated and I believe your agency expects to complete management actions at five more Areas of Concern by the end of 2015.
Administrator McCarthy: That’s right.
Representative Joyce: Since the GLRI’s inception, 29 beneficial use impairments have been removed at 13 Areas of Concern in six states, more than tripling the number of [beneficial use impairments] that have been…[removed in] the preceding 22 years. With all these accomplishments, you can probably understand my disappointment that the administration would propose cutting such a successful program that is producing such strong results. Why would the administration want to cut such an impressive program, especially given the amount of work left to do, like cleaning up more toxic hot spots, dealing with the algal blooms in Lake Erie, and stopping invasive species?
Administrator McCarthy: I think it may be too strong a word to say that we want to—I think we’re faced with some tough choices, but I do not at all disagree with you that it is a tremendously valuable program. We are looking at a current fiscal year 2015 presidential budget request of $275 million. That is down from the $300 million the prior year before. It’s just a reflection that we’re trying to continue to build on the great work hoping that the 275 [million] can build on infrastructure and information we’ve already gathered before, but is not a sense of a lack of interest or commitment, or an acknowledgement that this isn’t a great program. And needed.
Representative Joyce: Well, you know Congress did a great bipartisan victory last year by getting it to $300 million and especially when facing such difficult budget caps and I hope we can work together to increase that number…
Administrator McCarthy: I would hope so. Thank you.
Representative Joyce: …So even in these trying budget times, if you will.


Shoreline Cities Green Infrastructure Grants

The EPA has been announcing Shoreline Cities Green Infrastructure Grants around the region. These grants, which have been awarded to cities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio, provide funding for efforts to restore the natural landscape to increase absorption and storage of rain water to prevent flooding. Bioswales, rain gardens, and porous pavement are all examples of green infrastructure features  that can be incorporated into the urban landscape to slow the flow of rainwater, in part by absorbing it into the landscape. At the beginning of the week, the EPA announced a $500,000 grant for Buffalo, New York. Yesterday, the EPA announced two more of these grants, totaling $1.25 million, which will go to Detroit and St. Clair Shores in Southeast Michigan.

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