Senate approval of an additional $9 million in funding for Great Lakes cleanup could open the door for larger federal investment in the future.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, led an effort increasing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding to $310 million through a government appropriations bill passed in the Senate Thursday. Both chambers of Congress are considering additional bills supported by Michigan representatives to extend the GLRI program and raise the funding from $300 million to $475 million by 2026.
“For the Great Lakes Restoration fund, this is the first time that we’ve actually appropriated more money than is authorized,” Peters said. “This is a really, really big step to make sure that we can continue to get funding in years forward.”
The GLRI includes funding to prevent the spread of invasive species and algal blooms and clean up heavy contamination on lakes, beaches and waterways. In Michigan, the program paid to restore habitats on the Detroit River, wetlands along the Lake Michigan shoreline and various other projects to clean up toxic sites near waterways that feed into the Great Lakes.
According to the Great Lakes Commission, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided $726 million to 880 projects across the state. Since 2010, the GLRI cleaned up one-third of the region’s toxic hot spots, creating new business and improved access to waterfronts.
Peters worked with U.S. Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to tie the appropriation increase to a larger bill funding various federal agencies. If adopted in the U.S. House, the legislation would secure the most funding for Great Lakes protection since 2010.
Peters reducing overhead in the EPA helped convince the GOP-Senate majority to support the appropriation. Peters said the increase was the result of a bipartisan partnership to support projects proven to be an “incredible success.”
“We went into this process and many folks said you aren’t going to get any additional money, in fact folks, told us we should be lucky with what we already have in the Great Lakes restoration,” Peters said. “But we don’t take no for an answer.”
The new funds are not earmarked for any specific projects in Michigan, he said.
This year, bipartisan members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation introduced separate bills to increase funding for the program, created by the Obama administration in 2009.
All 11 of Michigan’s House representatives serve on the House Great Lakes Task Force. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Great Lakes Task Force, which Peters also serves on.
The GLRI was designed to be an environmental restoration program, but it has produced substantial economic benefits for the Great Lakes region, according to a 2018 report by the Great Lakes Commission. The study found every dollar of GLRI spending during this period will generate an additional $3.35 in economic activity for the region through 2036.
“I think this vote is a recognition by my colleagues here in the Senate that the Great Lakes are an invaluable resource for the entire country, one that we need to protect for now, as well as for future generations, particularly given the fact that they provide drinking water for 40 million people and are an incredible recreational resource for the entire country,” Peters said.