Mich. reps urge Pruitt to keep Chicago EPA office

Michael Gerstein, The Detroit News

Lansing — A bipartisan coalition of Michigan congressional lawmakers is urging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to keep the Chicago EPA regional office open.

U.S. representatives sent the letter to Pruitt on Thursday following rumors that Chicago’s Great Lakes office — which oversees environmental cleanup projects in Michigan and five other states — might merge with a Kansas office because of cuts in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

The EPA has denied that its Great Lakes regional office might close under Trump’s proposed budget cuts, although a lawyer for the union representing the federal workers has said she believes the office is a target. About 1,000 people work there.

Republican U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Mike Bishop of Rochester and Dave Trott of Birmingham signed the letter, along with Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint, John Conyers of Detroit, Sander Levin of Royal Oak and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, urging Pruitt to keep the office open.

The letter follows another letter sent to Pruitt this week that also urged him to keep the regional office open. It was signed by Michigan U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters -- both Democrats -- and other Great Lakes congressional lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“Each year, the Great Lakes generate billions in annual economic activity and support 1.5 million good-paying jobs in the tourism, boating and fishing industries,” according to the letter sent Thursday. “The Great Lakes also provide drinking water to 48 million people. It is in our national interest to protect the Great Lakes from harm.”

The latest letter noted that the EPA’s Region 5 office also oversees federal clean drinking water standards and is providing water testing and technical assistance to Flint during its recovery from a lead-contaminated water crisis. The office covers Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan and helped sound the initial alarm in government circles about elevated levels of lead in Flint’s water.

“In other areas, they are finding ways to prevent toxins from entering our drinking water through events like harmful algal blooms,” the letter said. “The Great Lakes region is best served by an office that has experience and expertise with these regional issues.”

Democrat- and GOP-led administrations in the past have floated rumors of potential budget initiatives to see how lawmakers and the public react.

Upton previously expressed concern over the possibility of the office closing, along with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Kildee.

A Chicago Sun-Times columnist, citing an unnamed Chicago official with federal connections, wrote two weeks ago the office could be a target of budget cuts.



Twitter: @MikeGerstein