Our View: Lakes funding in need of rescue -- again
No, not again. President Donald Trump's 2020 budget proposal was released this week, and for the third time in as many years, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was targeted for an enormous and unacceptable funding cut. The president's proposal included just $30 million for the initiative, a pittance of the $300 million allocated this year — and every year since the administration of President George W. Bush first created the initiative to fuel pollution cleanup.
Trump's proposed cut isn't as severe as two years ago when he suggested a 97 percent slash and then zeroed out funding altogether. Now, like then, Congress can rescue adequate funding, and Trump can relent and sign it into law.
But why must this annual dance be necessary? The federal program has been making good progress in cleaning up the St. Louis River and other polluted "areas of concern" all around the Great Lakes. Surely the president and members of Congress can see that.
As News Tribune editorials have been pointing out for at least six years, the initiative has been responsible for removing mercury and other contaminants from river bottoms and lake bottoms; for making water swimmable, fishable, and even drinkable again; and for otherwise turning environmental disasters into cleanup successes. In Duluth, along the St. Louis River, the initiative helped restore wild rice beds, sturgeon spawning grounds, and the habitats of piping plover and other nesting birds, among other projects.
"The Trump Administration's budget fails the Great Lakes and the communities which depend on them for their drinking water, public health, jobs, and quality of life. This is unfortunate, not unexpected, and — most importantly — not going to deter us from doing what we need to do to ensure that every person in the region has access to clean, safe, and affordable water," Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Policy Director Chad Lord said in a statement this week. "The Trump Administration has tried this each year of his presidency, and each time the U.S. Congress has refused to cut federal Great Lakes programs that are producing results in communities across the region. Congressional leaders understand that cutting programs will only make projects more difficult and expensive the longer we wait."
Encouragingly for the Great Lakes, Trump stood by his commitment to build a backup to the Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., including $75.3 million in his 2020 budget proposal. If the Poe ever failed, Duluth and Lake Superior would be cut off from the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the nation would fall into an economic recession, perhaps even a depression, the Department of Homeland Security determined in 2016. A backup lock could prevent the unthinkable.
Adding to concerns, however, the initiative wasn't the only Great Lakes-benefitting program in the Trump proposal's crosshairs. Its $1.12 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund was $574 million less than 2019 funding, and its $863 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was $300 million less than this year.
Yes, it's critical for Washington to rein in spending and to be cognizant of the mounting national debt, and taxpayers can appreciate such efforts. But federal programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are making real differences and addressing real needs ought not ever be targeted lightly.
So Congress can come to the rescue again.
"This proposed budget is a starting point," as Minnesota's 8th District Congressman Pete Stauber pointed out in a statement Tuesday. Stauber was referring to proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the Trump budget proposal, but his sentiment applies as well to programs that benefit all of us living and working around the Great Lakes.