46 House members urge Great Lakes cleanup fund cuts reversed

Apr 8, 2014 Issues: Environment

Washington — A bipartisan group of 46 House lawmakers, including six from Michigan, want Congress to reject proposed cuts by the White House to a Great Lakes cleanup fund.

Last month, the Obama administration proposed cutting the budget for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which cleans up pollution and restores fish and wildlife habitats, from $300 million to $275 million, a 9 percent cut.

Great Lakes members led by Reps. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, and John Dingell, D-Dearborn, along with Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, and David Joyce, R-Ohio, want the cuts reversed. The members sent a letter to the committee considering budget funding, including 37 Democrats and nine Republicans. Others signing from Michigan include Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township; John Conyers, D-Detroit; and Dan Kildee, D-Flint.

It’s a rare example of prominent Democrats opposing a budget cut raised by the White House.

The initiative is a five-year-old effort to restore and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem.

“The inter-agency program provides funding to address vital environmental issues in the Great Lakes, such as cleaning up contaminated sediments, reducing polluted runoff, mitigating habitat degradation and loss, and addressing invasive species such as the Asian carp. The program has invested $1.6 billion in Great Lakes restoration over the last five years,” the 46 members of Congress said.

The program awards competitive grants to fund cleanup and restoration. Michigan — which has the most Great Lakes shoreline of any state and borders four of the lakes — has received 547 project grants.

“We’re making real progress on restoring the Great Lakes, but there is still a lot more work to do,” Levin said. “Now is not the time to cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

In March, Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters the cut was part of an overall White House plan to trim the EPA’s budget $310 million to $7.9 billion.

McCarthy said the EPA has difficult challenges “but we do expect to make good progress. ... We’ll focus on priority cleanups.”

The House members note the Great Lakes are the source of drinking water for 40 million people and hold 95 percent of the U.S. supply of fresh water.

“The lakes are also an economic driver, supporting 1.5 million jobs and generating $62 billion in wages annually. The Great Lakes fishery alone is valued at $7 billion a year. The Lakes also support commerce, agriculture, transportation, and tourism. For all these reasons, we believe Great Lakes restoration must remain a priority,” the letter said. “More than a century of environmental damage has taken a significant toll on the Great Lakes, which have struggled to overcome toxic substances contamination, habitat loss, invasive species, and beach closings.”

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