Spending bill keeps $300M for Great Lakes cleanup

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A must-pass bill to keep the federal government running through September would fully fund the Great Lakes cleanup program targeted for cuts by the White House.

The text for the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, released late Wednesday, restores the full $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which enjoys strong bipartisan support in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

The Trump administration last year had proposed ending federal support for the program, which funds the cleanup of degraded shorelines, measures to combat invasive species and the detection and prevention of toxic algae blooms. Last month, the administration suggested a 90 percent reduction to $30 million for next fiscal year.

The spending package now goes before the House and Senate for consideration. Lawmakers must act on it by midnight Friday, when the last short-term funding patch expires, to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided more than $600 million in funding to Michigan, according to the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Lansing Democrat who co-chairs the Great Lakes Task Force.

“This budget bill includes important priorities for Michigan,” Stabenow said in a statement. “It restores full funding for the Great Lakes and expedites action to combat Asian carp.”

The legislative package would urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study on how to upgrade a waterway choke point near Lake Michigan to deter Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes by February 2019.

That date was the Army Corps’ original deadline for completing the Chief of Engineers report before the Trump administration delayed the timeline for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam last year.

The language also directs the Corps to work with other agencies to evaluate whether new navigation measures could reduce the chances of vessels in the Illinois River inadvertently transporting invasive species such as Asian carp through the lock and dam in Joliet, Illinois.

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he worked to ensure the legislation benefits the priorities of Michigan residents.

“Today’s bipartisan agreement delivers for our state with vital funding to protect the Great Lakes so they can be enjoyed for generations to come, Moolenaar said in a statement.

The legislation provides more than $100 million for research and demonstrations of automated vehicles, according to a bill summary.

The spending package includes $10 million for a study on the health impacts of exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, through drinking or ground water. Michigan health officials have said continued exposure to PFCs in drinking water could harm human health.

The chemicals have been detected in Michigan lakes and drinking water in west Michigan’s Belmont area and around military installations including Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Sawyer Air Force Base, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Camp Grayling and the Escanaba Defense Fuel Supply Point.

Bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation had sent letters to congressional appropriators calling for at least $7 million for a study authorized by Congress last year to examine exposure to two types of PFCs at military installations.

They say the study is needed to establish stronger federal standards defining safety levels for PFAS exposure.

The bill also boosts funding for the Department of Defense to investigate and clean up contamination at active and decommissioned military bases, including those in Michigan.

Lawmakers said the legislation also increases the amount of emergency water grants available to eligible communities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division from $500,000 to $1 million.

“Funding a national health study about the dangers of PFAS contaminants will help ensure that veterans and residents exposed to the chemicals get the care they need,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, in a statement.

“Additionally, doubling the size of federal emergency water grants for places like Oscoda will mean that communities can act more quickly to provide safe drinking water.”

Sen. Gary Peters, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said families, service members and veterans are facing unknown health risks from exposure to the contaminated water.

“This health study is an important step towards understanding the potential impacts of these dangerous chemicals,” said Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

The spending bill also includes $97.2 million for the ongoing construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which is a physics research center at Michigan State University projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs.

Some conservative House lawmakers were frustrated with the prospect of voting on a bill more than 2,200 pages long within the next day, saying members won’t have time to read it all.

“As early as Wednesday, the House plans to vote on a trillion-dollar spending bill — stuffed with all sorts of unrelated measures — and we don’t even have the text. That’s insane,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, tweeted earlier this week.

He added Wednesday: “Looks like they’re still finding new crap to stuff into this trillion-dollar bill nobody will read before voting.”

The spending legislation did not include the creation of a special Senate committee charged with investigating the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics over the sexual abuse scandal involving former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Joni Earnst, R-Iowa, had requested the special committee in January, and last month introduced a resolution charging the panel with determining the extent to which the sports organizations were “complicit” in the criminal or negligent behavior of their employees relating to sexual abuse.

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