Great Lakes groups lobby Congress for funding

Mar 14, 2017
Originally published on March 17, 2017 12:02 pm

Groups representing mayors, governors, and Great Lakes states are descending on Washington this week to push back against reported budget cuts for environmental programs. 

Tuesday begins three days of speakers and presentations at the Great Lakes Commission’s semi-annual meeting. It also means three days of meetings with Congress and the Trump administration to promote the region’s priorities, including money for infrastructure and an initiative to restore the health of the lakes.

“It’s really important that we raise the profile of the Great Lakes and give our members of Congress from this region plenty of reasons to demonstrate why the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other investments have been successful,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the commission.

Officials are concerned about a federal budget draft that reportedly calls for major cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative funds many programs related to the cleanup of the lakes, and the draft would cut funding from $300 million annually to $10 million.

That could change when President Trump submits his budget to Congress. But he has vowed to cut spending for agencies such as the EPA, and boost the defense budget.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) already understands the importance of funding for the Great Lakes.

“This is not like the traditional political divides in Washington that are ideological – Democrat, Republican,” he said.  “This is regional. There are Republicans and there are Democrats that recognize the great value of the Great Lakes region to their communities and to the nation as a whole.”   

Other advocates planning to travel to Washington, like Jill Jedlicka of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, say proposed budget cuts could be catastrophic .

The lobbying continues the work of a group representing over 30 chambers of commerce in the region. They were in Washington last week to discuss the Great Lakes Metro Chamber Coalition’s infrastructure priorities.

“It’s so rare when a member of Congress from one district sees chambers and business representatives from a 10-state area advocating for the same projects,” said Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a coalition member.

The coalition’s priorities also include H1B visas for temporary workers.  Roman says the visas are critical to the region’s success – and he’d like to see the program enhanced.  

“The Great Lakes not being on the coast, where immigration is a little more prevalent, and we need talent from other countries in the world to populate many of our companies, many of our technology areas,” he said.

Among the 42 projects on the infrastructure list are rail service in Detroit and pedestrian bridges in Erie, Penn.  

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