House spending bill funds more Mich. priorities

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — House Appropriations lawmakers are poised to reject the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to some items important to Michigan and the Great Lakes, including environmental clean-up funding and construction aid.

The Republican-led Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released its draft spending bill for environmental programs that fully funds the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative with $300 million for 2018. The GOP administration of President Donald Trump proposed eliminating the clean-up program.

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, urged his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to include the restoration initiative funding in the spending bill.

“Working with private organizations and our state's leading research universities, 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,” Moolenaar said in a statement. “This important priority for our state is funded in today’s legislation.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat and member of the Appropriations panel, also commended the inclusion of the aid for the Lakes.

“It is still beyond me why the president, whose political fortune is so tied to the Great Lakes states, would gut funding for such a valuable environmental and economic resource as the Great Lakes,” said Kaptur, who co-chairs the House Great Lakes Task Force.

“I will keep the pressure up to ensure Congress provides the resources necessary to ensure the health and productivity of the Great Lakes.”

The committee also released draft language Tuesday for spending on Energy and Water programs that directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release its report recommending ways to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, Moolenaar said.

On the eve of its scheduled Feb. 28 release, the Trump administration directed the Army Corps to hold on to the draft study for fighting the invasive species at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, after the commercial barge industry raised concerns.

The spending bill also weighs in on the Army Corps’ benefit-cost study on modernizing the Soo Locks complex in the Upper Peninsula.

It urges the Corps to complete the study and include national and regional economic analyses considering the “unique movement” of commodities through the locks and their value to the country’s supply chain.

A 2005 study concluded that costs of the modernization project would outweigh its benefits, though lawmakers and stakeholders argued that the study underestimated the potential national economic impact of an unexpected shutdown of the only lock at the Soo complex capable of handling the largest ships.

“They didn’t consider how the iron ore shipped through the locks is used in end products like automobiles, appliances, agriculture – all sorts of different applications,” Moolenaar said of the earlier Corps study.

“They just looked at it as a commodity, and we’ve directed them to fully consider the impact on the economy of the United States. Once they do that, it will more fully evaluate the importance of this new lock.”

The Trump administration requested just over $5 billion next year for the Army Corps, which is $1 billion or 17 percent less than this year’s funding. Senate appropriators appear poised to reject the proposed reduction.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, called the proposal for the Army Corps “an enormous step backwards” during at a hearing late last month.

Alexander said critical projects such as the replacement of aging locks “have been piling up for years due to a lack of funding, and many of us in Congress have recognized that we needed to take steps to increase funding for the Corps of Engineers to address this backlog.”

The full House Appropriations Committee is set Wednesday to consider the Energy and Water spending bill.

The legislation also rejects the administration’s proposed $17.2 million cut for the ongoing construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams — a physics research center at Michigan State University projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs. The bill would set funding in fiscal 2018 at $97.2 million, compared with $100 million in 2017.

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region and Wyoming might be removed from the endangered list under the House environment spending bill, which forbids the Interior Department from using federal money “to treat any gray wolf … as an endangered species or threatened species.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in December that could allow wolf hunting again in the Upper Peninsula if the animal is taken off the endangered list.

Michigan legislators have rewritten state laws four times in four years to try to allow for limited hunting following a 2014 hunt, but the efforts have been stymied by voter referendums and court action.

On Monday, House appropriators released their bill for transportation spending, which includes $150 million toward the subsidies that keep passenger air service flying to 173 rural airports, including nine in northern Michigan.

Trump’s budget plan proposed eliminating funding for the Essential Air Service, with officials arguing that the program wastes money on mostly empty flights to communities that are within driving distance of larger airports.

An Appropriations subcommittee was scheduled Tuesday evening to consider the transportation draft.

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