Members of Congress are still going over President Obama’s 2012 budget.
In it, the President calls for major cuts to a program for Great Lakes restoration. It’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The goal is to restore habitat… clean up pollution… and keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.
Initially, President Obama requested $475 million for the program. He got that under a democratic Congress. Now he wants to cut $125 million out of next year’s budget.
Jeff Skelding is the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
What would these funding cuts mean for Great Lakes restoration?
Skelding: The problems that are out there that need to be solved are going to get more expensive with delay.
RW: And how is the money being used right now, on the ground?
JS: Yeah, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is really a historic program because the bulk of new funding that it provided is actually going to on the ground projects in the water and on the land. And these are things like habitat restoration projects, projects to address invasive species, and to clean up toxic sediments, and those are three of the leading ecological challenges in the Great Lakes.
RW: So when this program was first announced, it was something pretty remarkable, right? I mean we’d been seeing cleanup and restoration efforts in the Great Lakes region pretty much stalled for decades.
JS: Yeah, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is probably the most historic restoration program ever enacted by Congress for the Great Lakes. Each year, the Great Lakes does receive programmatic funding at levels that have been up and down over the decades, but never before have we seen such an injection of this kind of investment and that’s why it’s so critical that the Congress and the Great Lakes Congressional delegation maximize funding in this budget making process right now.
RW: A lot of people in Michigan are expecting big cuts at the state level here this week. How would Michigan be affected if this federal funding for Great Lakes projects is cut?
JS: It’s a bad news story when the state is struggling the way it is like the state of Michigan. And that just emphasizes even more that assistance is needed and that assistance needs to come from the federal government in the form of funding in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the state of Michigan has a huge stake in this. They need their share of that funding to insure that restoration activities proceed forward under severely challenging economic times in the state of Michigan.
RW: How likely do you think it is that Congress will move ahead with these cuts proposed by the President?
JS: Well, the one thing about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is because of the nature of the program, federal funding to clean up the Great Lakes, and to help the economy, it’s really a bi-partisan issue. We have really received great support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. So that gives us hope as we stare down the significant cuts that are happening across the federal budget. So in some ways we feel like because of the nature of the program, we do have a bit of a step up because we’ve got bi-partisan support, and I think our message that this program benefits the economy of the region, we think that can continue to resonate on both sides of the aisle, and we’re going to work with both the Senate and the House as best we can to get that number to go up and not down.
Jeff Skelding is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. Thanks very much for your time!
Great, thank you.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.