U.S. lawmakers fight back against move to slash Great Lakes cleanup funds

Jul 23, 2013 Issues: Environment

Even as a U.S. House committee was looking at slashing Great Lakes restoration funding, legislators in both chambers — and from both parties — were advocating continued protections for the watershed.

Environmental groups complained that a draft bill in the House proposes cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by nearly 80% — from $285 million to $60 million next year — and slashing funding for repairing old sewer lines.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a multiyear program to clean up the lakes, fight invasive species, reduce pollution and runoff and restore wetlands. Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition in Ann Arbor, said the House bill “eviscerates” it.

“Slashing successful Great Lakes programs will not save the nation one penny. It will only cost taxpayers more, because projects will only become more difficult and expensive the longer we wait,” Ambs said.

But even as a House subcommittee passed the bill Tuesday — beginning a process which involves floor votes in the House and companion legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate — there were bipartisan efforts to continue programs designed to help the lakes, increasing the likelihood that at least some of the funding may be restored.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, announced legislation along with GOP Rep. David Joyce of Ohio that would continue the authorization for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and reauthorize an act that helps get rid of contaminated sediment, among other actions. Recent reports had Joyce — a member of the Appropriations Committee — proposing $475 million a year in funding for the lakes initiative.

Among the cosponsors of the bill are U.S. Reps. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican, and Sander Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat. Levin said reauthorizing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is “a major step in the right direction,” but that House appropriators need to “follow up and provide the resources” to fund the programs.

“If these cuts to GLRI stand, it will be a huge setback,” Levin said. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Michigan’s members — Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats — joined several others to ask President Barack Obama to take note of the “risks and impacts” of climate change on the lakes as he follows up on plans for controlling greenhouse gases.

Noting that lake levels have reached historic lows, they said they were disappointed that Obama hadn’t included concerns about the Great Lakes in his plans to date.

“Addressing the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes region is essential for ensuring the long-term health, safety and prosperity of our country,” the letter said.

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