Other Opinion: Great Lakes gets some great news
As good as dead just a month and a half ago -- or so it seemed -- a federal program that actually has been making real progress in finally cleaning up the St. Louis River and other heavily polluted "areas of concern" around the Great Lakes has ne...
As good as dead just a month and a half ago - or so it seemed - a federal program that actually has been making real progress in finally cleaning up the St. Louis River and other heavily polluted "areas of concern" around the Great Lakes has new life.
In March, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was listed among potential federal budget cuts under then-new President Donald Trump. The initiative's $300 million annual appropriation faced a slash to just $10 million, a whopping 97 percent reduction. Then, in late May, the Trump administration's budget blueprint, sent to Congress, eliminated the initiative's funding altogether.
However, one week ago today, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee "rejected President Trump's (fiscal year) 2018 zeroing out of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million for the sensible and successful (program)," as Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has an office in Duluth, put it in a statement to the media.
"(Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) projects protect safe, clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities. That's great value for all of us who live, work, and play in and around the Great Lakes," Learner wrote. "Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump administration's elimination of (initiative) funding ... is a bad idea."
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been powering Great Lakes cleanup efforts since the presidency of George W. Bush. With adequate and appropriate funding under President Barack Obama, the initiative has removed mercury and other contaminants from river bottoms and lake bottoms; has made water swimmable, fishable, and even drinkable again; and otherwise has turned environmental disasters into cleanup successes.
More specifically, the program has been restoring wetlands, reestablishing wildlife habitat, and improving water quality all across the Upper Midwest. The environmental rebound in Duluth and around the Great Lakes has been breathtakingly impressive after decades of heavy industrial pollution followed by decades of just ignoring the toxic messes left behind.
In Duluth, along the St. Louis River, the initiative has been responsible for the restoration of wild rice beds, sturgeon spawning grounds, and the habitats of piping plover and other nesting birds. Work to cap and remove contaminated river-bottom sediment is up next.
That's assuming the full $300 million appropriation survives in the final congressional budget plan.
As the News Tribune opined previously, reclaiming the Great Lakes has been embraced as a priority for too long by too many - and with too many successes - to be abandoned now. Congress can make sure that doesn't happen.
-- Duluth News Tribune