Budget compromise keeps Great Lakes cleanup aid

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A bipartisan bill to keep the federal government running through September would continue funding the Great Lakes cleanup program targeted for a cut by the White House.

Support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative had been uncertain after the Trump administration suggested reducing the program’s current year budget of $50 million to help cover costs for a requested wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The $1 trillion spending plan released Monday by congressional leaders also funds other major domestic programs for which members of the Michigan delegation had advocated, including $2 billion in new aid for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

President Donald Trump did get a victory as the legislation includes a $25 billion increase in defense funding over current levels and $1.5 billion for additional border security measures. But there is no money dedicated for Trump’s proposed border wall.

The omnibus package includes money for other Michigan priorities, including $100 million for a Michigan State University project called the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a physics research center under construction in East Lansing.

It also allocates $8.4 million through the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation program to help fight the advancement of Asian carp – an invasive species that could devastate the Great Lakes ecosystem – and gives the Great Lakes Fishery Commission an additional $168,000 for a total $21.45 million.

The bill designates $2.3 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, continuing 2016 levels, and an additional $10 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation program, according to a summary.

The legislation would reduce the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency $81.4 million to $8 billion, while including $7.5 million more to accelerate the cleanup of Superfund sites with hazard material contamination.

The EPA administers the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Trump administration last month proposed eliminating funding for the program in the fiscal year starting in October.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, applauded the bipartisan effort to protect the current year’s funding for the Great Lakes program.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has always received bipartisan support and is absolutely critical to supporting Michigan jobs and protecting our Great Lakes, including fishing, boating, hunting and stopping invasive species,” Stabenow said in a statement.

“I will continue working with my colleagues across the aisle to make sure President Trump’s plan to completely eliminate Great Lakes funding next year is stopped.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, praised the deal reached by budget negotiators, especially the inclusion of funding for the Great Lakes and medical research.

“This NIH funding boost shows a deep commitment to our nation’s best and brightest researchers and doctors. It will pay huge dividends down the line for patients and families,” Upton said in a statement.

“With this agreement we also bolster our nation’s border security, jump-start the rebuilding of our military – including the largest military pay raise in six years – and provide additional resources for the fight against the ongoing opioid epidemic.”

Last month, Upton sent a letter with Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, opposing the White House proposal to cut millions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health budgets for 2017 and 2018.

The pair last year partnered on bipartisan legislation, signed by President Barack Obama, to bolster research on cancer and other diseases, expedite government reviews of pharmaceuticals, as well as fight opioid abuse.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga, who co-chairs the House Great Lakes Task Force, said the legislation demonstrates that the Great Lakes continue to be a “national priority.”

“The health and vitality of the Great Lakes are instrumental to having a productive economy that creates good-paying jobs and sustained economic growth in Michigan,” he said.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, expressed similar sentiments, adding that he will work to fully fund the Great Lakes program and “stop President Trump’s proposed elimination of the program next year.”

On Twitter, Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from the Grand Rapids area, slammed the budget compromise.

“Another deal to grow government. Instead of compromising to cut spending, each side agrees to let the other side spend more,” Amash wrote.

“Instead of defending status quo, GOP should be defending Constitution, Rule of Law, federalism, free speech/markets, responsible budgeting.”


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