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Lake Erie programs suffer millions of dollars in losses from Trump budget proposals

By James F. McCarty • Updated Mar 16, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Pledges by President Trump and U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to protect clean water initiatives seemed to ring hollow today after budget proposals threatened to destroy Lake Erie's most vital programs.

The White House announced plans to:

• Eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the cornerstone of a program to protect and restore the largest system of fresh water in the world, by combating water pollution, especially toxic algal blooms, to prevent and control invasive species, and to restore habitat to protect native fish and wildlife;

• Cut $250 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coastal grants and programs, essentially destroying the agency's forecasting and tracking system of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie that have plagued the lake for the past decade, and which forced the shutdown of Toledo's drinking water system in 2014;

• End NOAA's Sea Grant College program - including Ohio State University's iconic Stone Lab near Put-in-Bay -- that assists in tracking the algal blooms, helps to train the next generation of coastal experts, and provides on-the-ground support of sustainable fisheries and workforce development;

• Discontinue funding for the Clean Power Plan, the signature Obama administration effort to combat climate change by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and sharply reducing the Superfund program.

The millions of Ohioans who fish, swim, boat and obtain their drinking water from Lake Erie, should know that the budget proposals require Congressional approval. And several of the leading members of Ohio's delegation stepped to the plate Thursday, pledging to fight to restore the funds for the EPA and NOAA programs.

U.S. Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, all expressed dismay at the Trump budget proposals.

"Taking an ax to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will cost Ohio jobs and jeopardize public health by putting the well-being of Lake Erie at risk." Brown said. "My colleagues in the Ohio delegation and I will not stand for a budget that zeroes out this critical program."

Portman said: "I have long championed (the GLRI) program, and I'm committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding."

Kaptur said: "It is beyond me how these reckless and draconian cuts could help the American people. This budget is Dead On Arrival. I would remind the White House that under the Constitution it is the Congress that holds the power of the purse. I hope my Republican colleagues on the Appropriations Committee remain committed to a collegial and cooperative process, that yields good results for the American people."

The Trump budget cuts propose to slash the EPA's budget by 31 percent, and to cut 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the agency's current workforce of about 15,000.

It also would eliminate more than 50 EPA programs, including the Energy Star program, a grant program that helps cities and states combat air pollution, and funding for the $73 million Chesapeake Bay cleanup project.

Environmental groups across the country decried the cuts to the EPA and NOAA.

"President Trump's proposal to completely eliminate all funding for Great Lakes protection and cleanup programs is a shocking abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region," said Jennifer Miller, director of the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter.

"Putting America first means protecting our waterways, and the Great Lakes are the most important natural and economic asset to our region. By cutting Great Lakes protection, President Trump is cutting good jobs in water infrastructure projects, he is cutting the cleanup of toxic pollution in our drinking water, and he is cutting our tourism revenues, because no one wants to swim, fish, or boat in bright green slop."

"For the 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, health, jobs, and way of life, the Trump Administration budget is a total non-starter," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

"The Trump Administration's budget makes it abundantly clear that real leadership to benefit the people of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois will have to come from Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who have worked together over the last seven years to invest in Great Lakes restoration projects that are producing results for the environment and economy in local communities across the region," Ambs said.

Brown applauded part of Trump's budget blueprint, which "strengthens the International Trade Administration’s trade enforcement and compliance functions, including the anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations, while rescaling the agency’s export promotion and trade analysis activities.”

Brown has reached out to Trump and the administration to work together on trade. However, the Ohio senator is not pleased with the proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“As a kid, I remember seeing how polluted Lake Erie was, and we can’t put an end to our cleanup efforts when we’ve made such progress,” Brown said.

“Any Ohio family sitting around the kitchen table knows that making a budget is about choosing priorities, and this blueprint shows that Ohio’s working families are not President Trump’s priority,” Brown added. “President Trump made bold promises to Ohioans that he’d fight for them – but instead he is slashing infrastructure funding he promised to invest in and waging a fight against programs that grow Ohio manufacturing jobs, support rural communities working to create new jobs, help seniors heat their homes, keep workers safe, find cures for disease and protect our clean water.”

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