Fears U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to gut the $300-million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative turned out to be more than justified.
A budget plan the White House released Thursday would eliminate the initiative launched by former President Barack Obama, instead of just reducing it to $10 million, as initially proposed.
“They’re blowing it up,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, one of many politicians on both sides of the border who have been speaking out against Trump’s plan to end the federal program created to help protect and restore the Great Lakes.
Trump’s budget plan must be approved by Congress, and several Republicans in Great Lakes states were quick to say they don’t support eliminating the initiative.
“It’s up to every country to decide their priorities, but here is a president who has decided to spend another $54 billion on military spending,” Bradley said.
“At the same time, we’re talking about $300 million” that was being used on a “wide variety of environmental cleanups and protection.”
The initiative, launched in 2010, had a major focus on cleaning up Great Lakes areas of concern, preventing and controlling invasive species, reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to algal blooms and restoring habitat for native species.
“One wonders if it’s just being gutted because it was an Obama program,” Bradley said.
The White House spending plan says it “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to states and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.”
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a group that includes communities in Sarnia-Lambton, joined others in speaking out against the spending cut.
The initiative says local governments already invest more than $15 billion annually on efforts to protect the lakes.
There was “incredible value for that $300 million,” Bradley said about the U.S. federal funding Trump wants to eliminate.
“It just shows an appalling lack of respect for a shared waterway, between two countries, that 40 million (people) taken their drinking water from,” Bradley said.
He said he’s hopeful members of Congress will oppose the cut.
“We’ve seen it with other issues where the Congress and the Senate have waylaid the president,” Bradley said.
“In this particular case, I don’t think it’s a Republican-Democrat issue. I think it’s just an environmental issue.”
Bradley added: “Why would you do this, and diminish the Great Lakes?”
Over the last decade, “there have been so many strides to turn around the water quality and protect it,” Bradley said.
“I do think there will be a real bi-partisan push back.”
The initiative has funded nearly 3,000 projects across eight U.S. states. Among them: efforts to prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes, prevent nutrient runoff that feeds harmful algal blooms, rebuilding wetlands where fish spawn and remove sediments laced with PCBs and other toxins.
With files from The Associated Press