Washington Update: Busy Week for the Great Lakes

The Federal Government plays an important role in working with the states to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Photo credit: David Keith

This week is a busy week in the U.S. Congress, as the House and Senate will be taking up several important matters pertaining to Great Lakes restoration and protection. We’ll be following developments closely.

 

Solid Funding for Great Lakes Priorities; Damaging Policies

Today, Tuesday, May 15, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, the U.S. House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee is discussing its fiscal year 2019 Interior and Environment Bill. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition supports several elements of the bill:

  • It invests $300 million in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up toxic pollution, fight invasive species, restore habitat and wetlands, and reduce polluted runoff.
  • It invests $2.6 billion in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which provide low-interest loans to communities to fix, upgrade, and build water infrastructure.

 

The Coalition opposes harmful policy provisions in the bill, namely a provision that eliminates Clean Water Act protections that more than 117 million people – and 30 million people in the Great Lakes region – rely on to protect public drinking water.

Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said:

 

“We’re glad to see Republicans and Democrats working together to support federal Great Lakes restoration priorities that are producing results for our communities, our health, our jobs, and our way of life. Serious threats remain—which is why we’re thrilled to see Congress summarily rejecting the Trump Administration’s cuts and putting forward a budget that acknowledges the urgency to tackle these problems now, before the problems get worse and more costly.”

 

After discussing and voting on the legislation (a process known as mark-up), the subcommittee passes the legislation on to the full appropriations committee. The full House Appropriations Committee could take up the Interior spending bill as early as this Thursday.

 

Farm Bill Underwhelms

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, at 2 p.m., the full U.S. House of Representatives starts its discussion on reauthorizing the federal Farm Bill (H.R. 2). The Farm Bill contains the largest investment in conservation programs in the federal budget—programs that pay farmers to take specific actions to improve the health of soil, water, and the environment.

 

The current Farm Bill, unfortunately, contains cuts to conservation programs—as has been the recent trend. The bill was also drafted by Republicans with no input from Democrats—creating a challenging political dynamic. (The U.S. Senate has vowed to craft a bi-partisan bill.) The House will decide which policy amendments to accept tonight and tomorrow—with a full House vote expected on Thursday. Damaging amendments have already been introduced, including one to scuttle Clean Water Act protections—a rollback that would undercut investments in Great Lakes restoration and protection, as well as clean drinking water. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is withholding its support for the current House Farm Bill until funding is restored to conservation programs and damaging policy provisions are removed.

 

Said Todd Ambs: “Farm Bill conservation programs are essential to protecting and restoring the Great Lakes. At a time when we still have toxic algal outbreaks like the 2014 episode that poisoned drinking water for more than 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, we need to  be investing more—not less—in programs that help farmers protect soil and water quality.”

 

EPA Administrator Talks 2019 Budget

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal year 2019 budget with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

 

Senate Bill Advances Water Priorities

On Thursday, May 17, at 10:15, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 2800, also known as the Water Resources Development Act). The bill contains funding for water projects across the country. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition supports many of the provisions in the bill, including:

  • An increase in the authorization for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $30 million in fiscal year 2019 (to $330 million), $60 million in fiscal year 2020 (to $360 million), and $90 million in fiscal year 2021 (to $390 million).
  • Requirement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete a final feasibility report for the Brandon Road lock and dam by the original deadline of February 2019. The project is intended to bolster defenses to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
  • An increase in the authorization for fiscal years 2019 through 2021 for the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act of 1990 by 10 percent for each of fiscal years 2019 through 2021.

The bill contains several other important projects to protect and restore our nation’s waterways. Read the Coalition’s letter of support for the legislation list here.

 

Great Lakes Advisory Board Threatened

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition strongly supports public input into Great Lakes restoration policy and implementation. Since 2013, the federal Great Lakes Advisory Board has successfully helped provide input on how to effectively and efficiently direct Great Lakes restoration investments. The advisory board contains representatives from many sectors—scientists, industry representatives, mayors, non-profits, and others are represented on the committee, including the Coalition itself. The Trump Administration’s EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has announced major changes in how such an advisory board will function. The Coalition strongly supports the current charter and make-up of the Great Lakes Advisory Board. The EPA has set a May 31 deadline to determine the status of all such advisory boards, including the Great Lakes Advisory Board. Stay tuned.

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