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Federal budget cuts threaten Great Lakes

The Paul J. Martin sails slowly past the lighthouse on Wisconsin Point on Lake Superior. Proposed federal cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative threaten to eliminate a partnership that has produced results for the Great Lakes environment and economy, according to advocates calling on Congress to restore $300 million in funding. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

Great Lakes advocated are calling on Congress to restore funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect the nation's largest system of fresh surface water.

The Trump Administration's proposed 2018 budget to Congress was released this week, eliminating $300 million for the initiative that provides funding for cleaning up toxic waste sites, improving storm water management, combatting invasive species, and protecting habitat for fish and wildlife in the basin.

Waterfront cities that rely on the lakes for their thriving tourism, navigation, industry, and drinking water are especially concerned about the cuts. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of 130 United States and Canadian mayors representing more than 17 million people, expressed "extreme dissatisfaction" with the administration's decision.

"GLRI has been instrumental in revitalizing the Great Lakes region, and we must maintain this momentum with continued, full federal funding," said David Ullrich, executive director of the Cities Initiative. "Everyone from shippers and boaters to hunters and anglers to the lakefront residents drinking a glass of tap water benefits from GLRI. Without it, we are needlessly risking the $5.8 trillion regional economy and public health in both the United States and Canada."

The Cities Initiative is calling upon members of Congress to secure full funding for GLRI through letters to the bipartisan Great Lakes Congressional Task Force and Congressional appropriators. During the Cities Initiative's Annual Meeting and Conference in June in Montreal, QC, the importance of GLRI will be highlighted with testimonials from US cities about GLRI's numerous successes.

But they're not alone.

Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes is joining the call for congressional intervention on the proposed 2018 budget, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2018, and would affect communities large and small in the Great Lake states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York.

When the Trump Administration first put forward drastic cuts in its fiscal year 2018 budget, a backlash ensued as Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House denounced its draconian cuts, said Todd Ambs, campaign director of Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes.

"We've seen this movie before," Ambs said. "It's bad and not worth seeing again. So, frankly, it's time to move on. We're counting on Congress to deliver for the Great Lakes to make sure the nation continues to make investments that protect our drinking water, jobs, and way of life.

Republicans and Democrats have worked together to make the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative an exemplary partnership between the federal government and states that has produced results for our environment and economy, Ambs said.

"Serious threats remain, however, which is why we look forward to working with bipartisan leaders in the U.S. House and Senate to restore Great Lakes funding that helps protect the drinking water that more than 30 million people depend on," he said.

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