Great Lakes’ victory shows power of bipartisanship
In one of the more notable victories of common sense over recklessness in the era of President Donald Trump, a large contingent of Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces to just say no to one of the chief executive’s most misguided and foolhardy proposals of his tenure.
Last week, responsible protection of the nation’s environment won the day largely through intense pressure from a diverse collection of U.S. senators and representatives of our region – including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, both Democrats; and Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. David Joyce, both Republicans. The efforts of those and other legislators and supporters mean ongoing preservation and enhancement of one of our region’s most precious and vital natural resources – the Great Lakes – will not be gravely endangered in the foreseeable future.
They did so by ensuring funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would remain at its full 2017 levels of $30 billion in the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 federal budget bill approved Friday by a bipartisan majority of both chambers of Congress. Trump had proposed a draconian 90 percent cut to the program this year, only slightly less distasteful than his proposal in 2017 to eliminate it altogether.
As we noted three weeks ago in this space when arguing to spare the program from virtual extinction, the GLRI has more than proved its value in protecting the health, safety and economy of our region and our nation.
We’re pleased that so many others in the Senate and House recognized as much in rejecting yet another effort by the Trump administration to turn the clock back decades on responsible stewardship of its most precious natural resources.
IMPORTANCE OF GREAT LAKES
The Great Lakes – Erie, Superior, Michigan, Huron and Ontario – clearly rank among the most pre-eminent of those resources. They represent the largest group of freshwater lakes on planet Earth and contain 21 percent of the world’s fresh water by volume.
The restoration initiative, a brainchild of the administration of former President Barack Obama, has proved its worth many times over. In the past decade, it has invested more than $2.5 billion in the eight-state region and has completed or is working on more than 3,900 restoration projects.
Those projects have run the gamut from cleaning up toxic pollutants, preventing the spread of invasive species such as the destructive Asian carp, reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms that contaminate drinking water and restoring habitats to protect native maritime species.
In Northeast Ohio, it contributed to the $61 million cleanup of the Ashtabula River that flows into Lake Erie. That project removed 630,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment that contained more than 25,000 pounds of hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic compounds. It made the lower Ashtabula suitable again for maritime commerce, fishing and recreational boating.
Such GLRI success stories have been replicated many times over on the lakes, their tributaries and the communities that surround them.
“The Great Lakes are an invaluable resource to Ohio, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a successful public-private partnership that helps protect both our environment and our economy,” said Portman last week.
That common-sense assessment from Ohio’s junior U.S. senator and the victory in fully funding the initiative, however, does not mean the battle for protecting the lakes and other vital natural resources is over.
No doubt efforts will continue by the Trump administration to chip away at hard-fought environmental safeguards. One such threat looms in the Senate in the form of the proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge Act.
That legislation would ease protections in the federal Clean Water Act against ballast water invaders. In addition, states would be barred from enacting stronger measures to lessen biological pollution and to prevent invasive species from entering waterways via international shipping.
We hope the same coalition that succeeded to preserve the GLRI will fight that effort and other misguided proposals that devalue the importance of clean waterways and other natural resources to a strong U.S. economy and a healthy American way of life.
Vessel Incidental Discharge Act
Trump and his EPA, under the leadership of Administrator Scott Pruitt, also have their sights set on other potentially misguided policies.