By Joel Brammeier, President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes
Like many people around the Great Lakes, I was astonished by President Trump’s recent comments at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
At the rally, the president declared his love for the lakes and announced that he would fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). This cornerstone of Great Lakes protection and restoration efforts has funded more than 4,700 on-the-ground projects in all eight Great Lakes states.
His comments raised eyebrows around our office because the program he pledged to support is the same one he has cut in his budget every year since he took office. In fact, the White House’s FY20 budget released just last month proposed cutting the program by 90%.
For nearly a decade, the GLRI has had broad, rock-solid, bipartisan support from the entire region. It has been a model for, and the envy of, other similar programs around the country. Unfortunately, President Trump’s actions to support the Great Lakes have fallen woefully short.
Each year in January, the Alliance for the Great Lakes releases our priorities for federal programs needed to restore and protect the lakes. Looking at the list, it is hard to find programs that the White House has not recommended cutting.
President Trump’s recent budget proposed significant cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. They provide critical funding to cities to fix the failing pipes that allow sewage into our lakes and contaminate drinking water in our homes. They’re a key source of dollars to replace the lead service lines targeted for removal in dozens of Great Lakes communities.
The administration is also systematically dismantling the Clean Water Act right now through a proposed removal of protections for critical waters across the country. The positive impact of the Clean Water Act can be seen all over the Great Lakes. One of the most recognizable successes is the cleanup of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, a river once so polluted it regularly caught on fire. Fifty years later, the Cuyahoga – like many other rivers and waterfronts – is a vibrant mix of industry, booming real estate, and recreation.
We need to do more to protect our water, not less. Yet the Trump administration’s actions send the nation backward in protecting our water.
The list of cuts goes on. Chopping funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Stalling efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by slow-walking U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects.
So forgive our skepticism about the president’s declaration of love for the Great Lakes. We welcome anyone who takes clean water seriously – it’s a big tent. We know how much water matters to all Great Lakers. For us, it’s a way of life.
Opportunities abound. Fully fund the GLRI, of course. Follow through on the promise of big new infrastructure investments, especially for drinking and wastewater, particularly in communities bearing the brunt of dirty water problems. Stop rolling back common-sense protections under the Clean Water Act that make those investment worthwhile. Stop denying the very real threat of climate change and commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
If the president wants to show the country his administration is serious about clean water, actions speak louder than words.
Despite the president’s remarks, he can’t just wave a magic wand and increase funding for programs protecting the lakes. His administration has already submitted its budget proposal with significant cuts.
Right now – we need Congress to hear your voice. They hold the federal government purse-strings and are working on the budget right now. Write your Members of Congress today and urge them to support much-needed funding for Great Lakes protection programs.