After three years of threatening to cut critical funding for the protection and cleanup of the Great Lakes, only to about-face each time, the administration of President Donald Trump this year is “fully committed,” as Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler said in a Detroit Free Press report this week.
The president is finally and thankfully “fully committed” to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal effort that has been making major strides in removing mercury and other contaminants from river bottoms and lake bottoms around all the Great Lakes; that has been making the region’s waters swimmable, fishable, and even drinkable again; that has been combating invasive species; that has been turning environmental disasters into cleanup successes; and more. The initiative has been building a steady record of responsible achievement and progress ever since President George W. Bush initiated the program and then President Barack Obama consistently funded it.
“I believe I'm the only EPA administrator to ever go swimming in the Great Lakes. I have absolute love and respect for the Great Lakes, and I want to make sure that we get them restored,” Wheeler said in the Detroit story. “President Trump is fully committed."
Trump had proposed cutting and even zeroing out the program throughout his first term, before stepping back in the face of broad bipartisan congressional support for the initiative. This year, Wheeler said he has commitments from the White House and from the Office of Management and Budget for what has been the initiative’s annual funding of $300 million.
Which is great, except that, last month, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to increase funding from $300 million annually to $475 million. That’s a badly needed additional $175 million to reduce even more pollution runoff into the Great Lakes, to restore more wildlife habitat, and to otherwise ensure the lakes’ health and the purity of 21% of the earth’s surface freshwater. The president can get on board, too, with what clearly is a solid investment.
“Lake Superior along with the other Great Lakes are national treasures, a key pillar of our economy, and the backdrop of countless special memories for my family and many others,” Eighth Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber of Hermantown said in a statement after co-sponsoring and voting for the funding increase. “Protecting our Great Lakes has always been a top priority of mine, and I am proud to advocate for this bill.”
“This is excellent news for the 30 million people who count on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and quality of life,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, also in a statement.
This week, an amendment was filed by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, to increase funding for the initiative, with the same goal as the House’s $475 million annually within five years. Peters said he has “seen firsthand just how crucial the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is in communities.”
“The Great Lakes are more than an ecological treasure or economic engine: They are simply part of who we are,” Peters said in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to protect the Great Lakes for future generations, and this amendment reflects the importance of that mission.”
Everything we can — and by everyone in a position to act, including, now apparently, even President Trump. He, his administration, and Congress owe it to all who value clean, fresh water to follow through and to make good on a shift in the right direction when it comes to committing to invest in protecting and restoring our invaluable Great Lakes.