U.S. House Bill a 'Step in Right Direction' for Great Lakes

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More work needed to help confront sewage overflows, maintain Clean Water Act protections

07-11-2014 // Jordan Lubetkin

A U.S. House appropriations subcommittee yesterday released a funding bill that maintains Great Lakes restoration funding, but cuts investments to halt sewage contamination and rolls back essential Clean Water Act protections.

“The bill is a step in the right direction for the Great Lakes, but more work is needed,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “While funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is most welcome, we are disappointed in cuts to core programs that will severely inhibit the ability of cities to invest in infrastructure desperately needed to curtail sewer overflows throughout the region. Further, rolling back essential Clean Water Act protections undermines restoration efforts and undercuts a rulemaking process currently underway.”

The fiscal year 2015 Interior and Environment bill contains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—the same amount provided by Congress in its 2014 budget. The initiative supports efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, combat invasive species like Asian carp, and prevent runoff from farms and cities. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has invested more than $1.6 billion over the last five years in more than 2,000 projects benefiting people and communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has documented more than 100 Great Lakes success stories, which you can read at www.healthylakes.org

The enthusiastic support for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding stems from a strong push by bipartisan leaders in the U.S. House. In March, 46 members of the regions Congressional delegation led by U.S. Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) signed on to a letter to House appropriators, urging them to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million. Read the letter at: http://bit.ly/W05wp6

Great Lakes members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies then worked to win support for funding. Great Lakes members include Reps. Joyce (R-Ohio), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.).

The Great Lakes Congressional delegation has been instrumental in helping ensure that the Great Lakes remain a national priority,” said Ambs. “U.S. Reps. David Joyce, Betty McCollum, and other Great Lakes members of the committee have been strong advocates for the Lakes. We thank them for their supports and look forward to continuing to work with them to maintain federal funding.”

The House bill, however, also cuts $430 million from the national Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The federal program, which distributes money to states by a set formula, helps communities upgrade wastewater infrastructure to prevent sewage contamination in waterways. The $1.01 billion recommended in the fiscal year 2015 House bill represents a 30 percent cut from the $1.4 billion Congress appropriated in fiscal year 2014. If the current House bill is enacted, the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York would see their portion of the national State Revolving Loan Fund cut by more than $150 million—from $530 million in fiscal year 2014 to $372 million in the current budget.

“The nation needs to be investing more—not less—to fix old sewers,” said Ambs. “Its time to fund solutions that will enable us to update our aging infrastructure and address this epidemic of sewage contamination in our waterways.”

The bill also contains several provisions that would roll back essential environmental protections. The bill prohibits the U.S. EPA from implementing long overdue rules designed to clarify what waters of this nation are protected by the federal Clean Water Act from pollution and destruction. The rule—which is currently out for public comment—provides protections for many small streams and wetlands that people in the eight-state region rely on for their drinking water.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition strongly supports the clean water rule.

“Clean Water Act protections for Great Lakes streams and wetlands are essential,” said Ambs. “At a time when were seeing federal Great Lakes restoration investments deliver results in communities across the region, this rule will help ensure that those gains are protected.   The EPA and the Army Corps should be allowed to finish this rule promulgation process without interference from Congress.”

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