Trump backs off budget slash, backs full $300M for Great Lakes cleanup

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — President Donald Trump said Thursday he is backing off plans to slash funding for a popular Great Lakes cleanup program as he campaigned in a key Michigan battle ground.

Tailoring his message to Michigan voters, Trump said he would support fully funding the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and dump proposals his administration has made for three straight years to make a 90 percent cut in the program.

“I support the Great Lakes,” Trump said. “They’re beautiful. They’re big, very deep. Record deepness, right?”

Trump was met at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids by Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, state Rep. Matt Hall and former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally.

After a discussion with the congressional Republicans en route to the rally, Trump announced he would abandon a budget proposal to cut $270 million from the Great Lakes cleanup program, a plan perennially criticized by Michigan Republicans and Democrats alike.

Cleanup programs for the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay were the only ones to receive some funding under the Trump administration's proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. Other geographic programs were eliminated. 

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The initiative will be fully financed at $300 million, Trump told the sell-out crowd at Van Andel Arena, as it has in recent budgets after Congress restored the funding.

"I am fighting for you and your jobs and your community with everything I have,” the president said, noting during the speech that he narrowly won the state in 2016.

Earlier this year, Huizenga criticized the proposed budget cut. 

"While there are several improvements in the president’s budget proposal from last year, it fails to properly fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative," said the Zeeland Republican, who has co-chaired the House Great Lakes Task Force. "This critical program has helped clean up legacy pollution, restore habitat, and prevent the spread of invasive species.”

Trump also noted initial federal funding for the Soo Locks modernization project in the Upper Peninsula, a pledge he made during his last trip to Michigan in April 2018 when he backed a construction plan that requires more than $900 million in federal aid.

“Don’t let your new Democratic governor … take credit for it,” Trump said, referencing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Thousands of Trump supporters clad in stars, stripes and Make American Great Again hats crowded the Van Andel Arena after waiting hours in lines that wrapped around the building and lined several side streets in downtown Grand Rapids.

Twitter: @jonathanoosting