Great Lakes imperiled by shortsighted budget cuts

Apparently the man who thinks he can make America great again can’t rise to the challenge of protecting the greatness of the Great Lakes.

President Donald Trump’s budget would cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $270 million. The budget also eliminates the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program through which the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps farmers reduce fertilizer runoff into the lakes. That runoff is the primary contributor to algae blooms such as one in 2014 that caused Toledo to shut off water to 500,000 customers.

The president is proposing a kind of penny-wise-pound-foolish budget that is an insult to the word conservative.

There is nothing conservative in reckless neglect of one of the natural resources that, indeed, makes America great.

The Great Lakes are the largest fresh water repository on Earth. Their six quadrillion gallons of water touch eight states and the Canadian province of Ontario. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York have a combined population of about 85 million people. And the president might want to consider that five of those states, including Ohio, voted for him in 2016.

After centuries of taking the Great Lakes for granted, the United States and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972 with an aim of combating the pollution that had endangered this incredible asset. Turning back the clock by nearly a half-century should be inconceivable. But politicians who are fond of bragging that this is the greatest nation in history are too quick to recite a litany of things we can’t afford to do. In this case, they can’t see the value of protecting the Great Lakes from man-made forces that would destroy them.

A necessary component of greatness is being able to do more than one thing at a time.

National response

When a hurricane hits the South or East coasts, there’s no question that a national response is appropriate. Likewise, responding to forest fires in the West or tornadoes in the Midwest is seen as a federal responsibility.

But when pollutants or invasive species threaten the life blood of a resource that provides nearly 35 million people with drinking water and supports tourism and fishing industries that generate $7 billion in annual income – that’s when President Trump tells the Great Lakes states they are on their own.

There are states in the West that have been developed beyond the ability of nature to provide the water they need. Meanwhile, priority-averse politicians balk at investing to preserve and protect five bodies of water that hold more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. Only the polar ice caps hold more.

Last year, President Trump attempted to eliminate entirely funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In a bipartisan effort, Ohio’s senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman worked to restore funding for the initiative. They have pledged to do so again.

They should be joined by every member of the Ohio congressional delegation – Republican and Democrat, conservative, moderate and liberal – in an effort to counteract past pollution of the Great Lakes and prevent ongoing pollution.

At stake are the lakes, the jobs they provide today and can provide in the future. The health of the lakes and the prosperity o f the Great Lakes basin cannot be separated from the destiny of the United States. A great nation squanders its natural resources at its own peril.

Past conservatives recognized that concept. Indeed, they took their name from it.

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