Portman leads bipartisan call for continued federal support for Great Lakes restoration

Fighting for the funds to continue making improvements to the largest freshwater system in the world, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Monday called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to include $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in its fiscal year 2019 budget request.

In a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, Portman and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, noted that since its creation in 2010 the GLRI has generated $1.7 billion in funding that has supported more than 3,400 projects that aim to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species and other threats.

That funding, the lawmakers wrote, has resulted in the delisting of three areas of concern and the tripling of cleanup of beneficial use impairments in other areas. Impairments of beneficial use refer to changes in the integrity of the Great Lakes that could cause restrictions on fish consumption and other negative effects.

Further, the GLRI funds have helped facilitate conservation efforts on more than 1 million acres of farmland that reduce soil erosion and runoff, the removal of 513 dams and barriers in support of a $7 billion fishing industry, and enhanced federal leadership on Asian carp prevention.

“However, there is still much work that needs to be done,” the lawmakers wrote. “Aging sewers, invasive species, harmful algal blooms and toxic pollutants are just a few of the pervasive threats that impact the region. Cutting funding will slow restoration efforts, allowing problems to get worse and making them more expensive to solve. Ultimately, cutting spending on the Great Lakes won’t save money, it will cost the nation more.”

The senators not only stressed that the Great Lakes is a source of drinking water for 40 million people, but also noted that the lakes support a tourism industry that generates $10 billion per year.

“Now is not the time to scale back our nation’s commitment to restore the Great Lakes environment and economy,” the letter said. “Because of the partnership we have with federal agencies our region is making progress and seeing results. The GLRI is a locally driven restoration effort and its success depends on the collaboration between all levels of government and with industrial, commercial and non-governmental partners.”

U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), a vice chairman of the Great Lakes Task Force, was among a bipartisan group of senators who signed the letter.