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Monroe News: Walberg hopes to preserve Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

February 21, 2018
Tim In The News

For a second consecutive year, President Donald Trump is proposing to reduce drastically or eliminate federal support of cleanups for the Great Lakes, but U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg is hoping to convince the administration otherwise.

The Tipton Republican, who represents Monroe County, is inviting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to the 7th District to see the projects underway as a result of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

During a December Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Walberg secured a commitment from Pruitt to work together on Great Lakes issues, he said in a press release.

“I am writing to express my deep concerns with the FY19 budget proposal that would drastically reduce funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) from roughly $300 million dollars down to an alarming and unacceptable $30 million,” he wrote Pruitt.

“Since its inception in 2010, the GLRI has supported over 3,000 restoration projects and provided more than $2 billion in vital funding to Great Lakes communities. These funds have been used to prevent the spread of invasive species such as Asian Carp, combat harmful algal blooms and clean up toxic areas throughout the Great Lakes region. While investments made by the GLRI program are getting positive results, there is still much work to do. As we have done during previous budgets, my colleagues and I on both sides of the aisle will continue working together to ensure the GLRI program receives the full funding it needs.

″... To continue the conversation, I would like to invite you to visit Michigan’s 7th District to see firsthand some of the important work that is occurring in the Western Lake Erie Basin and the surrounding areas as a result of the GLRI,” he wrote.

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget for the EPA released last week would cut funding by 90 percent for the GLRI — an Obamaera plan for dealing with pervasive pollution in the world’s biggest surface freshwater system — and a similar program for Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary.

It would remove all EPA funding of cleanup programs for the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and South Florida, including the Everglades and Keys.

The administration’s EPA spending plan said the agency would “encourage state, tribal and local entities to continue to make progress” in those places.

The administration sought to zero out spending on the regional water initiatives in its first budget a year ago, describing them as “primarily local efforts” and contending state and local governments were capable of paying for them.

But Congress decided otherwise, illustrating the popularity of the cleanups among lawmakers of both parties and voters who want progress on longstanding problems such as toxic algae that fouls beaches, invasive species that starve out native fish and industrial toxins embedded in river bottoms.

The Great Lakes program is the largest, taking in about $300 million annually since it was established in 2010.

Trump’s budget would give it $30 million. Chesapeake Bay, which is getting nearly $73 million this year, would receive $7.3 million. The other programs receive significantly less federal funding.

Supporters pledged another fight to keep them intact.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., denounced the proposed Great Lakes cuts as “outrageous.”

“Why the Trump administration would continue to try to slash funding for the world’s most important freshwater resource is beyond my comprehension,” said Mike Shriberg, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation.

The Chesapeake Bay program, which dates to 1983, has accelerated in recent years in the watershed’s six states and Washington, D.C., with adoption of pollution reduction targets. Trump’s budget would provide money for water quality monitoring but none for cleanup work, advocates said.

“A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress,” said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined comment.

This article originally appeared in the February 21 edition of the Monroe News.