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Push intensifies to restore federal funds for Great Lakes

Since President Trump's proposed budget "zeroed out" federal funds to restore the Great Lakes earlier this month, demands those monies be put back have come in waves.

The tsunami came this week.

During a hearing on Great Lakes water quality in Buffalo this week, commissioners from the International Joint Commission said neglecting the lakes is tantamount to harming them.

Then, more than five dozen members of Congress wrote to appropriations officials Thursday requesting $300 million be returned to the federal budget.

And Friday afternoon, the Alliance for the Great Lakes held an hour-long webinar asking its supporters to put pressure on Congress to make sure the Great Lakes stay protected.

"We've got an uphill battle ahead of us," said Molly Flanagan, vice president for policy of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Top page of the congressional letter asking for restoration of the $300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (Click letter to read full text.)

The local congressional delegation, including representatives Chris Collins (R-Clarence Center), Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) and Louise Slaughter (D-Fairport), were among the 63 representatives in the House that sent a letter to House appropriators requesting the restoration of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

"GLRI resources have supplemented agency budgets to fund coordinated efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem, and we must ensure that this important work continues," the letter stated. "Halting this commitment would reverse years of progress, dramatically reduce the GLRI's impact and jeopardize the environmental and economic health of the region."

Great Lakes advocates are quick to point out that the Great Lakes know no political boundaries.

"The overwhelming bi-partisan congressional support for federal Great Lakes restoration investments underscores how important the lakes are to the millions of people who depend on them for their drinking water, jobs and way of life," said Todd Ambs, the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

A bipartisan bill in the Republican-led Congress was approved in late 2016 extending the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative another five years.

The program, which was signed into law under former President George W. Bush and went into effect under President Barack Obama in 2010, has included environmental restoration across the Great Lakes, including numerous projects in the Buffalo Niagara region like the Buffalo River cleanup.

Ten initiatives that are restoring Buffalo Niagara's Great Lakes

The Great Lakes program, and several other regional environmental programs, were scrapped, however, in President Trump's budget proposal released a few weeks ago.

"Our Great Lakes congressional delegation is pretty unhappy about these proposals," Flanagan said.

Alliance officials also said they're working with other regions around the country faced with a similar dilemma by funding cuts.

Environmental programs around Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Northwest were also drastically cut by Trump's budget.

Joel Brammeier, the president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said spending cuts and neglect in the Great Lakes comes with great risk.

"Our drinking water supply here in the Great Lakes is under that threat," Brammeier said.

He pointed to the water crisis that befell Toledo in August 2015 when toxic algae inundated the western Ohio city's drinking water plant, knocking about a half-million residents off their faucets for several days.

The good news?

Brammeier said the Congressional Great Lakes coalition is one that crosses party lines "to solve problems."

It's why the Alliance is encouraging residents around the Great Lakes to contact their representatives to let them know why the Great Lakes are important to them.

"No matter who you voted for, the people of the Great Lakes and people of the Midwest did not vote against the Great Lakes," Brammeier said.




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