Coalition to Congress: Restore Great Lakes Funding

As new budget battle looms, Great Lakes advocates press for revised plan

07-23-2013 // Jordan Lubetkin
Sunset over lake with boat

As a U.S. House subcommittee prepares to vote on a bill gutting Great Lakes programs and a federal advisory board meets in Chicago to chart the future of Great Lakes restoration efforts, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is urging the nation’s public officials to maintain their commitment to the Lakes by rejecting the draconian cuts and supporting a strengthened national plan to guide restoration efforts.

The stakes are high for the more than 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, health, and way of life. The initial four-year, $1.3 billion investment in restoration efforts by the U.S. Congress and President Obama is paying dividends in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. But the nation is nowhere close to implementing the $20 billion restoration plan that initially galvanized support amongst the region’s environmentalists, industry leaders, chambers of commerce, mayors, governors, and tribes when the plan was unveiled in 2005.

“The nation is at a crossroads,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “We urge public officials to keep restoration efforts on track by restoring funding to successful Great Lakes efforts and embracing a plan that puts the Lakes on a path toward recovery. Cutting 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.”

Bill Ignores Successes, Guts Restoration Efforts

A funding bill in the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee slashes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by nearly 80 percent – from the current level of $285 million to a proposed $60 million for fiscal year 2014. The initiative funds projects to clean up toxic contamination, reduce runoff from cities and farms, control invasive species, and restore fish and wildlife habitat.

The bill also slashes funding to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan fund, a national program that helps communities fix old sewers to keep beaches open and protect drinking water supplies. The bill cuts the program by more than 80 percent – from the current level of $1.03 billion to a proposed $250 million for fiscal year 2014.

“Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt,” said Joel Brammeier, co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “At a time when communities are facing a staggering backlog of work to keep sewage out of our lakes and rivers, the nation needs to increase—not cut—these investments, which are critical for the environment and economy.”

Federal Efforts Producing Results

Despite what the specter of steep budget cuts might suggest, communities around the region have begun witnessing the benefits of the new wave of federal investment in the Lakes. Habitat restoration projects are helping fish return to rivers after decades-long absences; toxic cleanups are helping communities redevelop their waterfronts, inspiring new business development; and efforts to control invasive species are creating new outdoor recreation opportunities for people.

View an interactive map of successful restoration projects at: www.healthylakes.org

“Great Lakes restoration efforts are producing results,” said Gildo Tori, director of public policy at Ducks Unlimited. “But there’s more work to do. Now is not the time to pull the plug on restoration efforts. We need to stay the course and maintain our federal investment in the Lakes.”

Coalition Advocates for Strong, Revised Plan

While these cuts loom, the U.S. EPA is focused on continuing the success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and has just embarked on revising its Great Lakes Action Plan. This plan is the blueprint for federal restoration efforts that will guide Great Lakes restoration funding priorities for the next five years in the eight-state region. An effective Action Plan has led to the successes seen already in the region, and, with proper funding, the new iteration of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan can further improve the health of the Great Lakes.

The Coalition recently submitted comments on the plan. Read them at: http://bit.ly/15Fjzif

Among the Coalition’s recommendations:

  • Increase science, monitoring and assessment into restoration efforts so that activities can be adjusted and targeted to ensure these efforts are as efficient and effective as possible;
  • Integrate climate change into the plan to strengthen the resiliency of the Great Lakes so they can adapt to a warming climate; and,
  • Ensure that bad federal policies (such as inadequate federal permit that fails to stop ballast water invaders and weak guidance that leaves the door open to wetland destruction, ) do not undermine current restoration efforts.

“Climate change will exacerbate many of the threats facing the Lakes, from sewage overflows to farm run-off,” said Melinda Koslow, regional program manager at the National Wildlife Federation. “Future restoration efforts need to incorporate climate change to help the Lakes adapt to a warming world.”

Future restoration efforts, according to the Coalition, hinge on both a strong plan and funding to implement it.

“The bottom line is simple,” said Ambs, “the nation needs to maintain its funding commitment to restoration, because no matter how good the next plan is, without funding it will go nowhere.”

Bipartisan Support

The move to gut federal funding goes against a history of bipartisan support for Great Lakes efforts. This spring, 38 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed on to a letter urging colleagues to support $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the fiscal year 2014 budget. A bi-partisan group of U.S. senators also urged appropriators to maintain funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million.

“Great Lakes restoration is a bipartisan priority, and that needs to continue if we are to see the job through,” said Chad Lord, policy director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “This subcommittee was handed a lemon when the House Budget Committee passed a completely unrealistic budget scheme earlier this year. We’ll work with our Great Lakes champions in Congress to reject these cuts and restore funding to make sure the Great Lakes can be used and enjoyed by people now and for generations to come.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of 120 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at www.healthylakes.org or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.

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