On Great Lakes restoration, let's make sure we finish job

May 8, 2014 Issues: Environment

Cleaning up the Great Lakes is an immense challenge that will take years of effort and cost billions of dollars. The competition for the limited federal resources available for environmental restoration is intense. And unless the congressional delegations from our region work together, the money will go elsewhere, and the Great Lakes will lose. It’s as simple as that.

That’s why it is significant that so many Democrats and Republicans from our region have come together to support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative is a 5-year-old effort to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The inter-agency program provides funding to address vital problems in the Great Lakes and their tributaries, such as cleaning up contaminated sediments, reducing polluted runoff, mitigating habitat 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 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides federal resources that respond to local restoration needs and project ideas developed by local units of government, environmental organizations, citizen groups and universities. The initiative’s grants are competitively awarded. To date, Michigan has received 547 project grants under the program — far more than any other state.

The progress being made to restore the Great Lakes was put in jeopardy last summer when a powerful committee in the House of Representatives proposed slashing the program by $74 million.

Republicans and Democrats from the region came together and successfully fought off this cut, and even won a modest increase in funding for Great Lakes restoration.

The fight for the Great Lakes isn’t over. In its budget submission to Congress, the Obama administration requested $275 million in 2015 for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — a 9 percent reduction from the current funding level. Let me be clear: Michigan and every other state in our region is better off because President Obama created the initiative in the first place. But this is not the time to water down our commitment to Great Lakes restoration.

Ultimately, Congress is going to make the decision on how much funding the program receives next year. So I joined with my Michigan colleague John Dingell, along with Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and David Joyce, R-Ohio, and we brought together a bipartisan group of more than 40 lawmakers to urge the House Appropriations Committee to provide sustained funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

It is important that we succeed. No one wants to go back to the days when the Great Lakes were choking on raw sewage, toxic chemicals and industrial pollution. It took more than a century to foul the Lakes and their tributaries to the point where they were dying, and it will take time and sustained resources to undo this damage. Through efforts like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, we’ve made a good beginning. Let’s finish the job.

To view the original article