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President's budget cuts Great Lakes programs

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides money for habitat restoration, keeping invasive species out of the Lakes, and cleaning up polluted areas.

President Obama’s 2015 budget includes some cuts to Great Lakes programs.

Obama is asking for $275 million for theGreat Lakes Restoration Initiative. That would be $25 million less than the current funding level.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says if the cuts go through, you'd see projects slow down.

“Whether it’s a contaminated cleanup project that’s underway but not completed, or a habitat restoration effort or dealing with the problems of keeping aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes.”

Will the cuts stick?

But there is a lot of bipartisan support for the GLRI in Congress, and in the past, cuts have been threatened but later, the funding was restored.

“We’re very optimistic because of that bipartisan support that we’ve had in the past that we can once again restore funding. But that only happens because we remind our Great Lakes congressional delegation and in turn, they step up and remind the rest of Congress just how critically important this funding is. Even though $275 million sounds like a lot of money, the fact is that we have a lot of legacy problems, if you will, in terms of old pollution spots from a century of issues we’ve had across the Great Lakes that need to be restored, cleaned up, and other areas of the Great Lakes protected."

Ambs says you can find examples of the work that's underway on his group's website.

"Whether you’re in Muskegon, or you’re worried about Belle Isle in Detroit, or spots in between and up north, you’ll see those stories highlighted in a real world way and talking about what it means on the ground for people and certainly for the Great Lakes.”

The President’s budget also includes big cuts to other programs.  The Clean Water State Revolving Fund gives loans to towns and cities to upgrade their sewer systems. Ambs says for Great Lakes states, that revolving fund could be cut by $150 million.

“That’s a very significant concern for us because the GLRI does not provide any funding to address these wastewater infrastructure issues. There’s been a rather significant cut of over $400 million to the fund proposed in the President’s budget and over $150 million of it would be a cut to funding that is currently coming into the Great Lakes to improve wastewater systems in everywhere from places like Duluth to Buffalo to Detroit to enable them to significantly reduce and hopefully ultimately eliminate sewage overflows when you have a big rain event.”

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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