Coalition Urges Congress to Support Great Lakes Investments

Workers remove invasive species in Michigan, thanks to Great Lakes funding. Photo courtesy of Gail Heffner.

Ann Arbor, Mich. (April 11, 2017) – As the uproar continues over the Trump Administration’s budget proposal to eliminate core Great Lakes programs, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is turning to the U.S. Congress to restore funding to federal programs that are essential in protecting the drinking water for more than 30 million Americans.

 

The Coalition—and more than 150 of its members and partners in the eight-state region of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York—today sent letters to U.S. House and Senate appropriators, urging them to support a robust Great Lakes agenda.

 

“Millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life are counting on Congress to stay the course and not give up before the job is done,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Federal investments are producing results for the environment and economy—but serious threats remain. Stopping federal investments now will only make restoration efforts more difficult and expensive the longer we wait.”

In letters to the U.S. House and Senate, the Coalition and its partners are asking Congress to:

 

  • Provide at least $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to protect and restore the source of drinking water for more than 30 million people in the United States;
  • Invest at least $2.8 billion in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help local communities across the country improve waste water infrastructure and at least $1.8 billion in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to help communities provide clean, affordable drinking water to people;
  • Release the draft Brandon Road Tentatively Selected Plan for how to best bolster defenses against invasive Asian carp near Joliet, Ill., (which should have come out in February), as well as fully fund the Asian carp action plan to keep the invasive fish out of the Great Lakes;
  • Ensure Farm Bill conservation programs are funded at authorized levels, including at least $100 million for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; and,
  • Reject cuts to federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency that are essential to implementing Great Lakes protection efforts, as well as ensuring that every person in the country has access to clean air and clean water.

 

The push by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition comes amid strong opposition to the Trump Administration budget cuts by members of the region’s Congressional delegation: In a letter to appropriators, a record 63 Republicans and Democrats urged colleagues to continue to fund the GLRI at $300 million in federal fiscal year 2018.

 

“The tremendous support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress underscores how important that Great Lakes are to the region’s people, communities, and businesses,” said Ambs. “The response from around the region from mayors, businesses, tribes, agricultural producers, chambers of commerce and nongovernmental organizations like those in the Coalition demonstrate strong support for Great Lakes restoration work from virtually every sector. In fact, it appears that the only person who is opposed to Great Lakes restoration funding like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is in the White House.”

 

Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded more than 3,400 projects around the region. Federal investments have removed more than 500 dams or barriers in rivers, opening up more than 3,800 river miles to native fish and aquatic life. Farm runoff and erosion has been reduced through conservation actions on more than 1 million acres, helping to cut off the nutrients that fuel toxic algal blooms. Large-scale restoration projects have been undertaken, restoring some of the most polluted sites around the Great Lakes including Presque Isle, Pa.; Deer Lake, Mich.; and White Lake, Mich.

 

Other items addressed in the House and Senate letters include a request to double the budgets for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in the Great Lakes region, nearly $80 billion is needed to repair and replace aging sewer pipes, treatment plants, and other wastewater infrastructure. Drinking water infrastructure in the region needs at least $100 billion to be updated. The State Revolving Funds provide low-interest loans to help communities afford these expensive projects, which are critically needed in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

 

“Our region’s water infrastructure is literally crumbling,” said Ambs. “In many cases, the communities who are most impacted by inadequate infrastructure and the environmental and health impacts of it are those who can least afford to fund costly improvements. That’s why federal Investments in our infrastructure go hand-in-hand with Great Lakes restoration funding.”

 

Given the magnitude of proposed Trump Administration cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and federal agencies, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and partner groups are expressing broad support for agencies that are instrumental to restoring and protecting the Great Lakes, including the U.S. EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, National Park Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. These agencies work together on Great Lakes restoration, each using their expertise to decide how funding should be invested to best restore the lakes. In addition, cutting grants from EPA to states by 45 percent will eliminate hundreds of federally funded positions in state agencies that enforce critical laws like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

 

“Every person deserves to have accesses to affordable, clean, safe drinking water; to eat fish that are safe and not toxic; and to live healthy lives that are not undermined by toxic pollutants and legacy contaminants,” said Ambs. “To make that vision a reality, it’s going to take a sustained federal commitment across the board.”

 

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