Over 100 people from throughout the Great Lakes region, including several from Western New York are headed to Washington, DC this week for Great Lakes Day, a coming together of regional organizations and federal policy members to discuss Great Lakes progress and needs moving forward.
President Trump’s budget blueprint is expected as early as this week and Congress will begin Fiscal Year 2018 budget deliberations thereafter. Preliminary reports indicate the Administration is considering significant cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget including a 97% cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“With the threat of complete destruction of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative looming, now more than ever, we need to demonstrate the value both environmentally and economically, of Great Lakes investments and come together to fight for the continuation of this program and others that enhance the quality of life for this and future generations,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster added, “The destructive funding cuts being discussed in our nation’s capital would not only dismantle the environmental and economic viability of the Great Lakes region, but paralyze the decades of progress as a result of EPA investments and the GLRI program. We as a nation are standing on the precipice of a pivotal moment in the Great Lakes Region’s history. It is crucial that federal representatives on both sides of the aisle recognize the significance of these common sense initiatives and ensure their continuation for future generations.”
Congressman Higgins serves as a member of the bipartisan Congressional Great Lakes Task Force and Mayor Dyster is the Vice Chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Higgins, Dyster, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment Associate Executive Director Brian Smith are headed to Capitol Hill for Great Lakes week conferences and advocacy.
Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper stated that “the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been one of the most successful pieces of legislation in Great Lakes history. The virtual elimination of this program would result in an immediate impact on several ongoing and planned water restoration efforts throughout our region. Congress and the Administration need to hear directly from Western New Yorkers about how the globally recognized and international award winning restoration of the Buffalo River would not have been possible without the EPA’s assistance and GLRI funding.”
The GLRI is a unique federal program that encourages formal collaboration between public, private and non-profit partners. It has catalyzed tens of millions of dollars in private investment, improved ecological health, and created thousands of jobs around the Great Lakes. Over the last 8 years, GLRI funding has provided more than $1.764 billion in support for 3,455 projects.
The total EPA budget represents just 0.2% (two tenths of one percent) of the total federal budget for 2016. In addition to a $290 million cut to the GLRI program, the proposed budget reportedly would cut funding for brownfield industrial site remediation by 42%, reduce grants to states for lead cleanup by 30% and slash the EPA’s climate protection program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.
“Healthy Great Lakes are a necessity for our quality of life, not a luxury item that can be dispensed through political budget shenanigans,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We are heading to Washington to tell our members of Congress that we will not accept attempts to dismantle successful programs that protect our drinking water, jobs, and way of life. We commend Representative Higgins for his leadership in this fight.”
The Great Lakes contain 95% of America’s fresh surface water and drinking water supply to more than 40 million people in North America. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is a joint effort between the U.S. and Canada to restore the Great Lakes by cleaning up pollution, promoting shoreline health, combating invasive species and protecting fish and wildlife. Over the last decade the federal government has invested $32.38 million in Great Lakes funding in and around the Buffalo River Area of Concern and is credited with the ecological and economic turnaround of the Buffalo River.
Mayor Dyster, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Jill Jedlicka, and CCE’s Brian Smith will participate in the Great Lakes Commission semi-annual meeting and Great Lakes Day, which is co-hosted by the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, from March 14-16. Congressman Higgins will meet with Great Lakes advocates during the week and participate in the Great Lakes Congressional Breakfast on March 16th.