Republicans reject Trump’s plan to cut $300 million for Great Lakes cleanup
Trump wanted to cut all federal funding for a major cleanup initiative. The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee simply ignored him this week.
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WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans have rejected his proposal to eliminate all federal funding for cleaning up the Great Lakes.
Trump’s request to slash the budget of the popular Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million (U.S.) to $0 had sparked an outcry from environmentalists and politicians on both sides of the border.
But Trump is simply being ignored by legislators, even those from his own party.
Congress, not the president, makes the real decisions about U.S. government spending. Republicans and Democrats on the powerful Republican-led House Appropriations Committee decided this week to set the 2018 budget for the restoration initiative at the previous level of $300 million.
A series of congressional votes are required before the budget is finalized, but advocates say the initiative appears safe.
Trump has been opposed by Republican politicians from the Great Lakes states crucial to his election victory, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. A bipartisan group of 63 House members asked the committee to preserve the initiative, saying Trump’s proposal would “reverse years of progress” and “jeopardize the environmental and economic health of the region.”
More than 30 million people get their drinking water from the Great Lakes.
“I don’t think it matters if you’re Republican or Democrat or any other political party: you recognize this goes right to the kitchen table of every one of your voters,” said Mark Mattson, president of the Toronto-based advocacy group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. “When Donald Trump was elected president, he assumed that all environmental issues were luxuries or wrong-headed or international conspiracies against business … But when the rubber hits the road, when you get down to the communities, these are bread and butter issues.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory was among the many political leaders to criticize Trump’s proposal.
“The early proposals were just devastating for all of us in the Great Lakes Basin. We have about 70 per cent Canadian membership and 30 per cent U.S. And I think the Canadians were as upset or even more upset than the U.S. side. They kind of viewed that as almost a betrayal of the friendship we have between our countries,” David Ullrich, adviser and former executive director for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of mayors.
Some advocates said they were relieved but not thrilled that the committee settled on the previous level of funding. Mattson said the $300 million mostly pays for projects targeting the “worst areas on the American side.” Billions more, he said, are required for all the needed work.
Trump’s administration argued that “state and local groups are engaged and capable of taking on management of cleanup and restoration of these water bodies.” Those groups, however, said government funding is essential.
The initiative has funded more than 3,000 projects at a cost of more than $2 billion to date. The projects are aimed at cleaning up polluted areas, dealing with invasive species, reducing runoff and restoring habitat.
Trump’s proposal was part of a broad package of suggested cuts to environmental programs. The committee also softened many of the others. Committee Republicans settled on a reduction of $528 million (or 7 per cent) to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, substantially less than Trump’s suggestion of $2.6 billion (31 per cent).