Biden budget seeks to boost EVs, Great Lakes cleanup but cuts Army Corps

Washington — President Joe Biden on Friday proposed a $6 trillion budget that includes at least $600 million for electric vehicles and infrastructure, $350 million to tackle PFAS, a $10 million boost for a Great Lakes cleanup program but cuts by 13% the budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

It also requests billions of dollars for upgrading roads and bridges, replacing lead pipes and service lines in drinking water systems, expanding broadband internet and upgrading the electric grid.

The budget contains Biden's American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which aim to extend the beefed-up child tax credit, provide direct support to families for child care, deliver national paid family and medical leave, and provide free community college and universal pre-kindergarten.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy at the Cuyahoga Community College Metropolitan Campus, Thursday in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

"This budget is an agenda for robust, durable economic growth and broadly shared prosperity," acting White House Budget Director Shalanda Young said on a Friday call.

"It will deliver a strong economy now and for decades into the future. And it is an investment in Americans all across the country who power our economy."

The proposal represents the starting point for negotiations and will likely change as Congress reviews it. But if passed in full, the $6 trillion budget would be $1.2 trillion less than the current fiscal year, which included significant COVID-19 relief spending. Former President Donald Trump proposed $4.8 trillion in spending for the 2021 fiscal year.

The White House estimated the 2022 deficit would be $1.8 trillion, accumulating around $7.5 trillion in debt over the next five years. 

Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, raised concerns Friday about the proposed deficit levels, writing on Facebook: "The President's debt exploding spending spree is not a serious or remotely fiscally responsible proposal."

Young highlighted a $20 billion increase for high-poverty schools and the largest budget authority increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in nearly two decades "to help rebuild its capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to emerging global threats."

Under Biden's spending plan, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would receive $340 million for fiscal year 2022, up 3% from $330 million for the current year.

The program, which enjoys bipartisan support, had been targeted for substantial consecutive cuts during the Trump administration, but Congress largely rejected the reductions in setting spending levels each year. Lawmakers renewed the program in December to authorize another five years funding for waterways and related habitat cleanup. Trump eventually backed off the cuts and supported the program prior to his re-election bid. 

The advocacy group Alliance for the Great Lakes said Friday it hopes Congress will boost the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative further and fund it at the authorized level of $375 million.

Michigan's Republican lawmakers have raised a flag in response to Biden's discretionary funding request to cut the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' budget by $1 billion over 2021 levels to $6.8 billion.

That's in comparison with boosts in funding for most other departments and major agencies, including nearly 41% increase for the Department of Education, 22% for the Environmental Protection Agency and 23% for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Army Corps oversees high-priority projects for Michigan waterways including efforts to halt the invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and construction of the long-delayed new Soo Lock — the first phase of which is expected to begin this spring and take two years to finish. 

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, appeared before the House Appropriations Committee this month urging the panel to reverse that cut and fund the Army Corps at or above the current year’s level.

“The Army Corps plays a vital role in Michigan maintaining water levels on the Great Lakes and engineering navigable waterways that are crucial to shipping, manufacturing and the hardworking men and women who make things here in America,” Moolenaar said.

He highlighted the ongoing construction at the Soo Lock and the waterway project to fortify the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, which engineers have identified as a choke point to halt the spread of Asian carp.

The Army Corps' budget proposal does allocate $480 million toward the Soo Lock construction and $4.94 million toward the Brandon Road project.

It adds new funding, at least $500,000, to initiate the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which would develop a coordinated plan to help states and local communities manage challenges such as high-water levels and climate change. 

The EPA’s budget devotes $10 million more to target chemical contaminants in drinking water known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals.

That would include $75 million to speed up toxicity studies and fund research to inform the regulations behind designating PFAS as hazardous substances, the agency said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, praised the administration's proposal to remove all lead pipes and service lines across the country to ensure clean drinking water.

"There are many lessons from the Flint water crisis, including that we must get more serious about rebuilding our outdated infrastructure," said Kildee, who is a member of the House Budget Committee.  

Kildee also applauded Biden’s "robust" efforts to rebuild infrastructure, as well as invest in American manufacturing.

"I have been working closely with the White House to put more electric vehicles on the road, which will support Michigan manufacturing jobs and propel our automotive industry into the future, while also combating climate change," he said. 

The budget proposal outlined significant new spending to boost electric vehicle production and adoption.

In addition to at least $600 million for electrifying the federal fleet, it calls for $71 million in tax credits for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles; $394 million for EV charging station credits; $2 billion for electric school buses and $795 million to "spark widespread adoption" of EVs. 

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, is opposing a proposed 13% cut to the budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the construction of a $1 billion lock for freighters on the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The Sabin Lock, far right, will be removed and the Davis Lock, second from right, will be rebuilt into a 1,200-long super lock that will allow 1,000-foot freighters to transit the St. Mary's River Rapids.

It includes $750 million for semiconductor research and $1.1 billion to "modernize the auto supply chain."

The proposals reflect what the president has already outlined in his jobs and infrastructure package and an unofficial budget released earlier this year. 

Biden has been a vocal proponent of accelerating the switch to electric vehicles, which he argues will help the U.S. retain economic competitiveness with China and tackle climate change.

Republicans in Congress have been wary of big EV spending, arguing improvements in the grid and supply chain must come first and that consumers don't yet want electric vehicles. Electric vehicles make up around 2% of all new car sales in the United States.

The Detroit Three automakers have each announced major investments in electric vehicles since the election and have lobbied the Biden administration for help with consumer incentives, research subsidies and a semiconductor shortage that has forced work stoppages. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

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