Mich. (AP) - It sounds like an idea that would warm a conservative
Republican’s heart: Kill funding of a regional environmental cleanup that
has lasted seven years and cost the federal government more than $2 billion,
with no end in sight. If states want to keep the program going, let them
pick up the tab.
That is what
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget plan proposes for the Great Lakes
Restoration Initiative, an ambitious push to fix problems that have long
bedeviled the world’s largest surface freshwater system - from invasive
species to algal blooms and toxic sludge fouling tributary rivers.
During the Obama
administration, the program generally got about $300 million a year. Trump’s
offer is zero. His spending plan released Thursday says it “returns the
responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state
and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national
The response from
Republicans in Great Lakes states: No, thanks.
“I think it makes
sense for us to continue to make prudent investments in protecting and
improving the Great Lakes,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told The Associated
Press, adding that he would lobby the Trump administration and congressional
leaders to put the money back.
Gov. Rick Snyder of
Michigan considers Great Lakes funding “very important to Michiganders,
therefore we know there is strong support among Michigan’s congressional
delegation and we will work with them to preserve the funding,” spokeswoman
Anna Heaton said.
GOP lawmakers from
the region also rushed out statements defending the program. It “helps
protect both our environment and our economy,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
illustrates a political fact of life: Whether you consider something in the
budget valuable or wasteful can depend a lot on where you’re from.
And it underscores
the resistance Trump may encounter to some spending cuts he is proposing for
the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and other
agencies that draw frequent attacks from congressional Republicans yet fund
projects and services with support back home.
spending blueprint also targets a Chesapeake Bay cleanup begun in 1983 that
received $73 million last year, plus other “geographic programs.” It doesn’t
identify them, but a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget this
month called for cutting all or most funding for San Francisco Bay, Puget
Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.
Asked for more
details, EPA released a statement saying the plan “reflects the president’s
priorities” and that Administrator Scott Pruitt “is committed to leading the
EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with
states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”
The Great Lakes
region includes swing states crucial to Trump’s election - Michigan, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. There’s also New York, Minnesota and Illinois. And
Indiana, whose former governor, Mike Pence, is now Trump’s vice president.
budget plan was released as about 100 Great Lakes advocates paid a yearly
visit to Washington, D.C., in support of the restoration initiative. They
flocked to the offices of home-state lawmakers, reminding them that Congress
voted only last year to extend the program another five years.
“We are going to
turn once again to our bipartisan congressional champions,” said Todd Ambs,
director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
lawmakers excoriated Trump’s proposal - “incredibly short-sighted and
reckless,” said Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan - Republicans noted that former
President Barack Obama at times recommended more modest reductions to the
initiative, which Congress rejected.
Some also pointed
out that former President George W. Bush signed initial legislation
authorizing a wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup, although he sought little
money for it.
The initiative has
funded nearly 3,000 projects across the eight states. Among them: efforts to
prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes, prevent nutrient runoff that
feeds harmful algal blooms, rebuild wetlands where fish spawn and remove
sediments laced with PCBs and other toxins.
Nearly all the
federal grants require cost-share payments from a state, local or tribal
agency, or perhaps a nonprofit organization. But Ambs said they can’t afford
to shoulder the burden alone.
support, “all of this restoration work would come to a halt,” he said.