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Congress approves major boost in Great Lakes funding

Large waves on Lake Michigan batter the south pier at Grand Haven State Park in Grand Haven, Michigan on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (Joel Bissell | Bissell |

Posted on December 24, 2020

Ten months after being approved in U.S. House with heavy bipartisan support, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act has passed the Senate and is headed for President Donald Trump’s desk.

The bipartisan bill would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — set to expire at the end of FY 2021 — for another five years, upping current funding levels of $300M to $375M in 2022 and then increasing funds by an additional $25M per year until hitting $475M in 2026.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both of Michigan, touted the passage of the bill in a joint news release Sunday, Dec. 20. Stabenow co-chairs the bipartisan Senate Great Lakes Task Force with Ohio Republican Rob Portman.

Stabenow, who authored the initiative in 2010 as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, called it a major success story that has been critical to addressing the threats that face the Great Lakes.

“In Michigan, this program has helped clean up contamination, restore wetlands, and fight invasive species, but there is much more to be done,” she said in a statement. “The good news is that Republicans and Democrats have come together in a bipartisan way to reinvest in this important program.”

Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided more than $2.7 billion to fund 5,449 projects throughout the Great Lakes region, including $762 million for 880 projects in Michigan, according to the senators’ news release.

The initiative has focused efforts to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species, restore coastline, clean up lakes, waterways and beaches and prevent future contamination.

Being from Michigan, Peters said he’s seen firsthand how successful the initiative has been toward protecting the Great Lakes.

“We must protect the Great Lakes for future generations,” he said in the statement. “It’s not only a source of drinking water for millions but an economic driver for our country.”

Earlier this month, a bipartisan bill he sponsored passed through Congress that will update the Environmental Sensitivity Maps for the Great Lakes. The last time Great Lakes maps were updated was between 1985 and 1994.

The maps will show what coastal resources are at risk of severe damage from natural disasters and emergencies, like pipeline oil spills. They will also include information on endangered and threatened species, as well as sensitive shorelines. That information will then be used to prepare for any potential oil spill to set baseline priorities for cleanup plans and advance protection.

The Environmental Protection Agency celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in a virtual event Dec. 9.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the initiative has made “a critical difference in dramatically improved water quality and sustainable habitat across the Great Lakes region.”

The GLRI was designed to be an environmental restoration program, but it has also produced substantial economic benefits for the Great Lakes region, according to a 2018 report by the Great Lakes Commission. The study found every dollar of GLRI spending during this period will generate an additional $3.35 in economic activity for the region through 2036.

“The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, providing drinking water to more than 30 million Americans and supporting nearly 1.5 million jobs that generate over $80 billion in wages every year. The crucial importance of our shared success cannot be overstated,” EPA Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Kurt Thiede said.

Funding from the initiative is distributed to address needs around the eight-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

The initiative will receive the following funding over the next six years:

  • $300 million for fiscal year 2021
  • $375 million for fiscal year 2022
  • $400 million for fiscal year 2023
  • $425 million for fiscal year 2024
  • $450 million for fiscal year 2025
  • $475 million for fiscal year 2026

Source: mlive

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