Deep cuts proposed to funding for Great Lakes

July 23, 2013

(Flickr/Eszter Hargittai)
Waves on the shore of Lake Michigan. Great Lakes advocates say the proposed cuts would threaten the environment, human health, and economy in the Great Lakes region.

A U.S. house subcommittee proposed a bill that would reduce the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative budget from $285 million dollars to just $60 million, a nearly 80% cut.

“When we first saw these numbers I could surmise that somebody miscounted and thought there was just one Great Lake,” said Todd Ambs, the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Since 2009, the initiative has tackled some of the Great Lakes’ biggest ecological problems, including invasive species, runoff, and contamination. Many proponents say the initiative will become even more important with climate change, which will have a drastic impact on the lakes.

“We’ve got these toxic hot spots that need to be cleaned up. And if we don’t do it now it’s just going to cost more in the future” said Ambs.

The Great Lakes funding was not alone in the potentially drastic cutbacks. The bill proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by over 30% and the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget by nearly 50%.

Sub-committee representatives said the bill made the hard choice of cutting “nice to have” programs, in order to save “need to have” programs. But Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said that even in this tough budget year, programs like the Great Lakes Initiative are singled out for disproportionate cuts.  "Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt," he said.

The bill is unlikely to be discussed by the full house until this fall, at which point it could be drastically revised during continuous budget negotiations in both the House and Senate.  

Shannon Heffernan reports for WBEZ. You can follow her @shannon_h