Saying the Trump administration's lack of funding for Great Lakes restoration is unacceptable, 63 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House on Thursday sent a letter to budget committee heads asking for full funding for the federal program.
The letter asks for $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for fiscal year 2018, which starts in October. That's the same amount Congress approved last year.
President Donald Trump included nothing in his proposed 2018 budget for Great Lakes restoration.
The Great Lakes program, which started under President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama, is aimed at reducing invasive species; restoring fish and wildlife habitat; ending bacteria-spurred beach closures; and preventing polluted urban runoff and other pollution. The program has pumped millions of dollars into Minnesota and Wisconsin projects in recent years, including several efforts to clean up and restore the St. Louis River estuary in the Twin Ports such as the removal of tons of century-old wood waste from Radio Tower Bay, an area now restored as prime fish habitat.
Federal money is now anticipated for the cleanup/capping of toxic sediment in Minnesota Slip and other Twin Ports harbor projects, but only if the program is funded.
Trump also has proposed taking $50 million out of the fiscal 2017 budget for the restoration program and use it to help build his promised wall on the Mexican border.
The money has been funneled through federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to state, local and nonprofit efforts in a competitive application process for specific new projects. State matching money often is required.
Among the 63 lawmakers were U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Collin Peterson from Minnesota - all Democrats - and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore (D), Ron Kind (D), James Sensenbrenner (R), Mike Gallagher (R), Mark Pocan (D) and Glenn Grothman (R) of Wisconsin.
Supporters of the restoration effort praised the lawmakers' commitment to keep funding flowing, noting the restoration projects provide good-paying jobs in addition to improving the regional environment and bolstering the lakes that provide the region's drinking water, recreation, commerce and industry.
"The overwhelming bipartisan Congressional support for federal Great Lakes restoration investments underscores how important the lakes are to the millions of people who depend on them for their drinking water, jobs and way of life," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
In addition to cutting the cleanup and restoration program, the Trump budget also eliminates the federally funded Sea Grant program, praised for its invasive-species prevention efforts and sustainable job creation in the Great Lakes region.