Senator Rejects White House Rationale For Gutting Great Lakes Restoration Funds

Steam rises up on the surface of Lake Michigan at sunrise, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Chicago.

Steam rises up on the surface of Lake Michigan at sunrise, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Chicago. AP


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White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney suggested Arkansas taxpayers shouldn’t have to help pay for conserving the lakes. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow didn’t buy that.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow grilled White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney on Thursday about why President Trump’s spending plan for the next fiscal year calls for eliminating all federal funding for a Great Lakes conservation program.

The Michigan Democrat said Trump’s proposal to nix funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has “caused terrific concern.” Issues the program concentrates on include cleaning up and preventing pollution, combating invasive species like the Asian carp and protecting wildlife.

“We have about 40 million people that get their drinking water from the Great Lakes,” Stabenow noted.

The restoration initiative falls under a category known as “geographic programs,” within the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

This category also includes similar conservation initiatives centered on the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, which is surrounded by Virginia and Maryland, and Puget Sound, located on the northwest coast of Washington state.

Lawmakers provided about $435 million for geographic programs in fiscal 2017 appropriations legislation that Trump signed earlier this month. That total included $300 million for the Great Lakes initiative, according to an explanatory statement about the spending bill.

Trump proposed slashing all funding for geographic programs in a proposal the White House released earlier this week for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

Stabenow noted that the president’s budget plan also seeks to eliminate a separate voluntary conservation program, included in legislation known as the Farm Bill, which focuses on issues such as reducing contaminated runoff in watersheds that drain into the Great Lakes.

The senator asked Mulvaney why he thought it was not important to protect the nation’s waters.

Mulvaney first responded by pushing back against what he characterized as a perceived notion that Republicans don’t care about environmental issues like the quality of water and air.

“Well then explain why your budget zeros out dollars that allow us to protect our Great Lakes,” Stabenow said to the budget director.

“Consistent with many other things that we did across the budget,” Mulvaney replied, “we look at programs that should be local, programs that are more appropriately local in nature.”

“I’m looking through this through the eyes of somebody in Arkansas,” he added.

“Can I really look them in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take some of your tax money to go do something in Michigan?’”

“Yes,” Stabenow shot back. “That’s called having a country, with all due respect. Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water surrounds Michigan and eight other Great Lakes states.”

“It is a major national resource,” she added. “And the idea that we would not recognize that in this budget is just stunning to me.”

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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