Mich. lawmakers push funding for Great Lakes cleanup

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – — Ten Michigan lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter Tuesday urging congressional budget leaders to extend funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Obama administration has proposed cutting $50 million from the fund — a reduction of 17 percent — in 2016.

“We urge you to continue this vital investment in the economic and environmental health of the Great Lakes,” U.S. Reps. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, and David P. Joyce, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations panel responsible for environmental programs.

Fifty lawmakers representing the eight Great Lakes states signed the request to continue funding at $300 million — the same level as recent years.

“This has to be a priority as Congress gets to work on the 2016 funding bills,” Levin said in a statement. “Now is not the time to cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

Joyce noted that the letter received more support from members of Congress than any other year. “I’m glad the effort to preserve and protect our Great Lakes is clearly growing across state and party lines, and we aren’t going to take our foot off the gas,” Joyce said in a statement.

In addition to Levin, the Michigan signatories were Reps. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township; Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; John Moolenaar, R-Midland; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; David Trott, R-Birmingham; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; and John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit.

In January, Joyce introduced a bill to authorize the initiative for five years at an annual level of $300 million and bring it under congressional oversight. A similar bill won House approval in December, but the Senate did not take action on it.

Created in 2010, the Great Lakes initiative has set aside about $1.9 billion over six years for more than 2,000 projects that range from reducing contaminated runoff to battling invasive species such as Asian carp, officials say.

In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, last month introduced the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, among others.

The bill would authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for five years at $475 million a year and reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office, which oversees restoration efforts.