Tag Archives: freshwater

Republicans join Democrats against Trump’s Great Lakes cuts

It  sounds like an idea that would warm a conservative Republican’s heart: Kill funding of a regional environmental cleanup of the Great Lakes 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 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 priorities.”

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 said.

The reaction 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.

The president’s 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.

Coincidentally, the 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.

While Democratic 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.

Without federal support, “all of this restoration work would come to a halt,” he said.


Waukesha’s water grab should be rejected

If the city of Waukesha has its way, a dangerous precedent will be set for the entire Great Lakes region.

This Wisconsin community wants the Great Lakes governors to sign off on a first-of-its-kind diversion application that fails to meet the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, a much heralded regional agreement signed into federal law in 2008.

In recognition that the Great Lakes remain a critically important natural resource to the region at large, the compact categorically bans diversions of Great Lakes water except under extremely limited circumstances and then only to communities that have no other reasonable options. This is not the case with Waukesha.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified Waukesha as one of more than 50 Wisconsin communities with too much radium in its water. These committees were asked to take action to make their water safe to drink by 2006. Most did so, but not the city of Waukesha.

Unlike the dozens of other Wisconsin communities that invested in radium treatment and other reasonable solutions, Waukesha chose to look to the Great Lakes, one of our region’s most precious and fragile freshwater resources, to bail it out.

What’s more, Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes diversion option promises to cost $150 million more than a non-diversion alternative, which would enable Waukesha to meet its drinking water needs by adding common-sense, available treatment technologies to its deep groundwater wells, while continuing to use its shallow wells.

Moreover, it appears that Waukesha’s diversion application is based not on the needs of its current city residents, but rather on the purported needs of households, and portions of other neighboring communities, included in a far larger water supply service area created by a state planning law. This expanded water supply service area almost doubles the size of the city’s current water supply service area.

Nowhere does the Great Lakes compact allow for a diversion based on the possible future needs of expanded service areas. And the households and commercial entities located within this expanded area fail to meet two of the compact’s central requirements: they have not shown any real need for Great Lakes water nor demonstrated significant water conservation efforts to date.

Wisconsin’s reliance on a state planning law designed to foster growth as justification for this contentious, expanded water supply service area is equally misplaced, because the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact inarguably trump state law.

Finally, beyond its failure to comply with core compact requirements, Waukesha’s diversion application shows a blatant disregard for the people of Racine, a city struggling in a different and far greater scale than the city of Waukesha. It is Racine that will be forced to bear the public health risks and clean-up costs relating to Waukesha’s return of partially treated wastewater through the Root River, which runs through the heart of Racine and empties into the city’s Lake Michigan harbor. This is simply wrong.

In order to secure the protection and viability of our magnificent Great Lakes for generations to come, the Great Lakes governors on the Compact Council must ensure that the core principles of the Great Lakes Compact are fully and truly honored. For its shortcomings and missteps, Waukesha’s application must be denied.

Jodi Habush Sinykin is an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based nonprofit group that works to protect water resources. The group is a member of the Compact Implementation Coalition.