100 Day Recap: Federal Great Lakes Priorities in Action

April 29, 2021

As of April 29, President Biden will have been in office for 100 days, a traditional marker for assessing a new president’s first few months in office. We laid out an ambitious agenda back in January for President Biden as his team took office. Our policy team identified five policy priorities for the new administration:  

  • prioritize environmental justice, 
  • increase drinking water & wastewater infrastructure funding & stop water shutoffs,
  • fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative & restore and strengthen clean water protections
  • fund efforts to stop invasive carp
  • address agricultural pollution that drives harmful algal blooms

At the heart of this list was a call to address the harms caused by systemic racism, addressing climate change, and ensuring that everyone around the lakes has access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water.

So, at this 100-day mark, how are things going? What progress has been made on the Alliance’s list of priorities? Although there is much more work to be done, we’ve seen some encouraging progress. The President has signed a flurry of Executive Orders, nominated his cabinet, appointed other high-level officials, and proposed significant legislation. Several positive themes have emerged, including a focus on racial and social justice, climate change, and investing in core public benefits like water infrastructure. Here are a few highlights.

First, the Biden administration has made racial equity, including environmental justice, a cornerstone of their policy decision-making. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Order that repealed a ban on racial sensitivity and diversity and inclusion training for federal agencies and contractors. We specifically called for this action in our list of priorities and applaud this step. Ensuring that federal agencies have the training to ensure policies and services are provided equitably to all Americans is critical. The President also appointed Micheal Regan as Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Regan has specifically noted that justice and equity will be key to his leadership of the agency. Back in January, we called on President Biden to “ensure that environmental justice is centered in the work of all federal agencies and administrative decisions that impact the Great Lakes and the communities and residents that are dependent on them.” We see this in action already. 

Second, President Biden has proposed significant legislation to address the nation’s outdated infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. We are encouraged to see that President Biden’s proposal, called The American Jobs Plan, includes major water infrastructure commitments to the tune of $111 billion. Specifically, the proposal includes replacing all lead pipes and the modernization of America’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. The proposal also prioritizes natural infrastructure investments to better protect Great Lakes communities against some of the worsening impacts of climate change. 

President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget also focuses on infrastructure by proposing reinvestments in core public service programs, including a 21 percent proposed increase for the U.S. EPA, which will benefit the Great Lakes.  In our list of federal policy priorities, we called on President Biden to dramatically increase funding and other federal support to fix our failing water infrastructure. His legislative and budget proposals are an important first step.

Third, we have seen a renewed focus on climate change. The Great Lakes region is already feeling the impacts of climate change, from rapid swings in water levels to heavier, more frequent storm events. The President has appointed a high-level team of climate advisors and, on his first day in office, re-committed the United States to the Paris climate agreement. And, climate change has been a top focus of his appointees to federal agencies. In January, we called on President Biden to recognize that “a changing climate will make existing Great Lakes problems worse for the foreseeable future,” and his focus on climate change is encouraging.