Articles

Lawmakers rally around Great Lakes funding

By Matt Hutton; Star Beacon

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Washington, March 12, 2019 | comments

Numerous House and Senate Republicans in Ohio broke with President Trump Monday on a plan to slash funding for Great Lakes clean up.

The president’s budget proposal — which is just a legislative suggestion and has no binding power over Congress — would cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from $300 million this year to $30 million next year. The bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funds clean up efforts in polluted Great Lakes sites, addresses threats of Asian carp and other invasive species, combats algal blooms and restores habitats for fish and wildlife, according to U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce’s office.

It is the third straight year the president has suggested gutting the program, and each time bipartisan supporters have rallied around it.

Joyce, R-14th District, is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Though there were portions of the president’s budget proposal he supported, he said he was “disappointed to learn that the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request does not treat our Great Lakes as the natural treasure they are.”

“The Great Lakes system is one of the greatest natural resources and economic powerhouses in the United States. Having grown up in Northeast Ohio, I know full-well how important it is to ensure we protect and preserve it for future generations,” he said, adding funding has been an issue in both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The program has provided $2.5 billion nationwide since it began in 2010. According the GLRI website, about $20 million of that total has been for Ashtabula County projects.

Most of that money, more than $13.5 million, went toward dredging work in the Ashtabula Harbor from 2010 to 2013. More than $2.7 million was for the EPA’s Ashtabula River Area of Concern — a classification that has since been removed.

In 2015, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy received $750,000 from the GLRI to buy conservation easements along 1,000 acres along the Grand River in southern Ashtabula County to protect habitats for endangered or rare species and control runoff.

“It’s critical that we maintain or increase funding that protects the Great Lakes and the tremendous natural resource that Lake Erie is to us for recreation, commerce, fishing, so many other needs in the community,” said County Commissioners President J.P. Ducro.

However, Ducro was confident most leaders in this part of the country and community “recognize the significance of Lake Erie and all the Great Lakes. ... I don’t know how you can dispute the importance of that.”

Pundits said Monday it was unlikely the president’s budget proposal would get much traction.

“The president’s budget request, like all presidents’ requests, is just that — a request — and really is an exercise in futility,” Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, told the Columbus Dispatch.

“Historically, Congress has crafted its own budget without using the president’s blueprint, and I have no reason to believe that this year will be any different.”

Both Ohio’s Senators said they oppose the cuts.

“For the past few years, no matter whether it was a Republican or Democratic-led administration, there have been attempts to cut or eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. And every year, we have successfully defeated those efforts and ensured that this critical program receives full funding,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman said.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown called the cuts “unacceptable.”

“Ohioans rely on Lake Erie for jobs, clean drinking water, and a place to enjoy with their families. Instead of investing in Ohio communities so they can grow and create jobs, President Trump is asking Ohioans to pay for tax cuts for millionaires by gutting Great Lakes programs and eliminating economic development efforts,” he said, adding he would continue to work with Portman to maintain the funding.

 Joyce also touted the GLRI as a way to create jobs and economic development in waterfront communities. For every $1 invested in the GLRI, it produces $3 in long-term economic activity, he said.

 “We can do better than $30 million for the system that provides over 1.5 million jobs, provides 90 percent of our nation’s supply of fresh water, supports 3,500 species of plants and animals and generates $62 billion in wages annually,” he said, adding he would work with colleagues “to properly fund the GLRI, address the threats facing the Great Lakes and ensure that we make the necessary investments to protect them to the fullest extent possible.”

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