Note: This blog is part of a periodic series of updates from Don Jodrey, the Alliance’s Director of Federal Government Relations, with his view on Great Lakes policy from Washington, DC.
The first week of March was a busy time in Washington, DC, as Great Lakes advocates from around the region, including the Alliance, gathered for the annual “Great Lakes Days” to lobby Congress for funding and laws to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The event, organized by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes coalition, brought hundreds of Great Lakes advocates to Washington, DC, to meet with Members of Congress.
The Alliance was tapped to lead the Illinois delegation and brought together allies from several Illinois-based organizations, including Friends of the Chicago River, the Illinois Environmental Council, and Stantec. Our group met with over 10 Illinois congressional offices on March 9 to discuss Great Lakes policy priorities. Overall, we believe we had a productive and frank dialogue, especially noting the difficulty of achieving some of our funding and legislative priorities this year with a divided Congress.
We couldn’t have timed our advocacy better as the White House released the FY 2024 President’s Budget the same day of our congressional visits. While we did not see the increases we had hoped for in all of the programs targeting the Great Lakes, the budget does have some good news. We appreciate that the Administration proposed a $1.9 billion (19%) increase for US EPA’s budget, with the majority of these funds targeting programs supporting water infrastructure improvements for rural and underserved communities. In addition, US EPA’s budget includes increases for programs that reduce lead in schools and support actions to address PFAS, including EPA’s first-ever draft rule to regulate PFAS in drinking water.
The budget debate now moves to Congress, and it is going to be contentious as House Republicans are determined to reduce federal spending. Overall, House Republicans have vowed to cut federal non-defense programs back to FY 2022 levels or lower. With the Senate in Democratic hands, it is unclear how top-line spending policy will ultimately be worked out, but we will continue to advocate for programs that protect our water resources.
In addition to the release of the President’s Budget, the House considered and passed a Congressional Review Act resolution to disapprove the Biden Administration’s recently released “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) Clean Water Act rule that sets forth protections for the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. We supported the development of the “Waters of the United States” rule and opposed the congressional resolution to disapprove the rule as the rule provides important Clean Water Act protections to the region’s water resources. The Senate is anticipated to take up the resolution soon, although the final vote is unclear, and the Biden Administration is expected to veto the resolution if it passes.
With all of these events occurring during Great Lakes Days, it gave us a great opportunity to talk about our federal priorities to our congressional representatives and to build a foundation upon which to continue the dialogue as we move forward in the legislative process. We will keep you informed of how developments in Washington, DC, this year and appreciate your support for programs that protect and restore the Great Lakes.