Drastic budget cut proposed for Great Lakes restoration program

Jul 24, 2013

A federal program tasked with cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes is facing a massive budget cut in the House of Representatives.

A House subcommittee is proposing an 80 percent cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Funding would be slashed from $285 million in the current budget to just $60 million next year. 

The program brings in partners from all areas to address problems such as toxic contaminants, invasive species, improving beach access, and restoring wetland habitat, many of which, they say, are being exacerbated by climate change.

More than 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, jobs, and recreation. Advocates says efforts in recent years to restore the Lakes have produced positive results as a result of the program, created in 2009. Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited, says the program has been highly effective.  

"The unique thing about this program is that it is producing tangible, on-the-ground results all across the Great Lakes Basin. It's a truly 'get 'er done' type of program that focuses on producing positive outcomes by addressing problems through unique partnerships, action-oriented strategies, and proper accounting and evaluation. It really is a model federal program," Tori says.

Todd Ambs, campaign director with the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, says slashing the initiative now will lead to greater costs in the future.  

"If you cut this funding today, it's not like the problems go away. Cutting this funding now just makes the price tag for fixing the problems in the future more expensive," Ambs says.

Members of the coalition say the cuts are disproportionate and they say they are unsure why they are being targeted. Since 2009, 1,650 projects have been funded through the initiative.

Stakeholders say $60 million is only enough money to fund restoration efforts for just one of the five lakes. Ambs says there has been no explanation why the proposed cut is so large. He says it is now up to the region's congressional delegation to work to restore the funding.  

"The program has broad, bipartisan support and now, as we move through the budget process, we certainly hope and expect that our champions out there in the Great lakes congressional delegation will help us to get this program back to where it can continue to do the great work that it has been doing," Ambs says.

The bill, which also proposes an 80 percent cut in a loan fund for local sewer system upgrades, will be considered at another committee meeting next week.  It likely won't be taken up by the full Republican-controlled House until the fall. The Senate has yet to act on similar legislation.