Great Lakes budget cuts proposed for third straight year

President pledges support at Michigan rally

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published April 16, 2019

 Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Shutterstock image

For the third consecutive year, President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing budget cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.

The 2020 fiscal year budget, which runs between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, was officially announced by the White House on March 11. The proposed $4.7 trillion budget includes the slashing of $270 million of the GLRI’s $300 million budget.

In 2017, the entire $300 million budget was at risk of being eliminated. In 2018, the proposal mirrored this year’s potential cuts, leaving about $30 million in GLRI funding. Both previous efforts were unsuccessful due to bipartisan backlash.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refers to the GLRI as “the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades.” Areas of focus have included toxic substances in waterways; invasive species; the effects of source pollution on nearshore health; habitats and species; and foundations for future restoration actions.

“Federal agencies use GLRI resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate progress toward long term goals,” the EPA states on its website. “Combining GLRI resources with agency base budgets, we work with non federal partners to implement protection and restoration projects.”

A September 2018 study conducted by economists, as part of the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics, used a combination of econometric and regional modeling to analyze the effects of the GLRI between 2010 and 2016.

The team estimated a total of $1.4 billion in federal funding spent on GLRI projects between those years, contributing an estimated $360 million in additional funding and bringing total Great Lakes states’ spending to about $1.7 billion.

Key findings from that study showed that every dollar spent on GLRI-funded projects will produce a total of $3.35 of additional economic output in the Great Lakes region through 2036; local housing prices would increase by $1.08; and for every $1 in federal government spending, additional tourism activity was expected to increase regional economic output by $1.62 from 2010 to 2036.

The GLRI created or supported an average of nearly 5,200 jobs annually. It also increased personal income levels by an average of $250 million per year.

“Although the GLRI was designed and implemented as an environmental restoration program, rather than an economic development program, it nonetheless produced economic benefits for the Great Lakes region that were on par with more traditional economic stimulus measures,” the study states.


Bipartisan letter sent to president, who recently pledged to fully fund GLRI
In a March 28 bipartisan letter sent and signed by 59 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to the chair and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, the $300 million in GLRI funding was asked to be fully retained.

House members called the Great Lakes “a national treasure.” The lakes, which together form the largest freshwater system in the world and contain approximately 21 percent of the world’s freshwater supply and about 90 percent of the country’s freshwater supply, were mentioned as an economic catalyst for jobs, commerce, agriculture, transportation and tourism.

“The federal government must continue to partner with our region to address the challenges the Great Lakes face,” the letter states. “GLRI resources have supplemented agency budgets and funded coordinated efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. We must ensure this work continues.”

The letter continues, “Halting or reducing this commitment would reverse years of progress, dramatically reducing the GLRI’s impact, and jeopardize the environmental and economic health of the region for generations to come.”

On March 28, during a rally in Grand Rapids, Trump seemed to reverse his stance.

“I support the Great Lakes. Always have,” Trump told the crowd. “They are beautiful. They are big, very deep, record deepness, right? And I’m going to get … full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — which you have been trying to get for over 30 years.”

In a statement released March 29, Congressman Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said he has “strongly advocated” for full GLRI funding and upgrading the Soo Locks, both in Congress and to the president directly.

Mitchell added that he was “extremely pleased” Trump changed his tune during his Grand Rapids appearance.

“Our Great Lakes are a national treasure, and the GLRI supports critical projects that improve water quality, combat invasive species, protect the Great Lakes ecosystem, and more,” Mitchell said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure — as I have the last two years — that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee include full funding in their final bill.”

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a former Republican U.S. House representative, declined to comment on the president’s budget proposal.