WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Appropriations Committee released legislation today fully funding a Great Lakes restoration program, rejecting a proposal from President Donald Trump to eliminate the $300 million committed each year to the effort.
The appropriations bill — one of several that would fund government for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 — still has to be voted on in committee and passed by the full chamber before being considered in the Senate. But the Republican-led panel's decision to restore all of the funding proposed to be cut by the Trump administration means it's almost certain to substantially survive.
“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative does vital work across Michigan to protect the Great Lakes and the streams, rivers and lakes that run into them," said U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, Michigan's sole member on the House Appropriations Committee. "This important priority for our state is funded in today's legislation."
The proposed 2018 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill to be taken up in a subcommittee on Wednesday also restores much of the $2.4 billion proposed to be cut from the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had been targeted for a reduction of nearly a third.
The Free Press first reported in March that an early draft of Trump's first budget proposed largely gutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is used to fund projects that improve fish habitat, clean up polluted waterways and protect wetlands.
With the program enjoying bipartisan support among legislators from the upper Midwest, criticism of the cut only got louder when Trump's budget was released and it proposed eliminating the program altogether, saying state and local groups were "capable of taking on management of clean-up and restoration" of the Great Lakes.
As recently as last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt indicated to Congress that there may have been disagreements in the administration about the cut, saying he had “talked to OMB about the importance” of the Great Lakes program before the budget was finalized.
Two Ohio members of the subcommittee that oversees the Interior and Environment appropriation questioned Pruitt about the cut in June and announced the restoration of the funding in the initial draft of the bill today.
“It is still beyond me why the president, whose political fortune is so tied to the Great Lakes states, gut funding for such a valuable environmental and economic resource as the Great Lakes," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo.
Trump, who lost the national popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, won the presidency by winning several Great Lakes states, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
U.S. Rep. David Joyce, a Republican who represents a district near Cleveland along Lake Erie, noted that, if anything, the Great Lakes needs more federal help, not less.
“This is about where we swim, where we fish, and most importantly where we draw our drinking water," he said. "Multiple administrations have yet to see the wisdom of protecting this national treasure at the levels it deserves and it is incumbent that the Great Lakes legislators continue to do the heavy lifting to protect it."
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