Huge Cuts for Great Lakes Funding in House Interior Aprops bill
APPROPRIATIONS: Interior-EPA spending bill cuts deep into Great Lakes (07/20/2011)
Paul Quinlan, E&E reporter
Environmental restoration and sewage cleanup programs benefiting the Great Lakes would take a big hit under the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA that is heading to the House floor for a vote in the coming days, environmentalists warned today.
House appropriators last week approved a spending package for the two agencies that includes a $1.5 billion cut to loan programs, called state revolving funds, used to modernize local wastewater and drinking water systems (E&E Daily, July 13). It also contains a raft of policy riders designed to block funding for specific Obama administration regulatory efforts, including a new wetlands-protection policy.
Great Lakes environmentalists argue that their region would bear the brunt of the cuts, including a 48 percent reduction -- from $475 million to $250 million -- to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from its spending level in 2010, the year it launched. The EPA initiative funds pollution cleanup, wetlands restoration and efforts to fight invasive species, including the dreaded invasion of the Asian carp, feared capable of devastating the Great Lakes' $7 billion sport fishery.
"In a nutshell, this bill is a catastrophe," Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a conference call with reporters this morning. "It is a national assault on clean water protections, and it brings that battle to the Great Lakes."
Great Lakes states would also absorb more than $300 million of the $800 million in cuts to the state revolving loan fund that finances improvements needed for sewage treatment plants to reduce beach closings and fishing advisories, Skelding said.
"This is a huge step backwards," Skelding said.
Republican appropriators last week argued that the heavy cuts in the bill are necessary to restore the nation's financial health.
"Is this a perfect bill? No. But it's a bill that makes some very tough choices on spending," Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said last week.
But environmentalists argue that the cuts to clean water programs in the House bill create short-term savings at the expense of greater, long-term costs, as pollution problems grow worse and more difficult to solve. Skelding cited a Grand Valley State University economist's study concluding that a $10 million restoration project on the Muskegon Lake produced $66 million in benefits over 10 years in the form of higher home values, tax receipts, tourism and recreational opportunities.
"These programs work and need to be funded," he said.
Republican appropriators last week noted that the federal stimulus directed $6 billion to the funds, $3 billion of which had not yet been spent.
"We all know that funding them as we have in the past is not possible," Simpson said. "We need to find a better long-term funding source for water infrastructure projects."
Great Lakes advocates also blasted an amendment from Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) that would strip funding from New York and Great Lakes states for enacting rules for ballast water treatment -- designed to prevent the transport and spread of aquatic invasive species that can disrupt or destroy native fish populations -- that are more stringent or include shorter implementation timelines than federal regulations.
"The amendment is ambiguous and could apply to all Great Lakes states, stripping them of all EPA funding," said Jennifer Nalbone, director of navigation and invasive species at Great Lakes United.
Also spotlighted were cuts to the revolving loan programs that, the green groups argued, are essential to closing a national infrastructure investment gap estimated to be approaching a trillion dollars over the next 20 years.
"Virtually every authority agrees that funding needs remain very high," said Katie Rousseau, associate director of the clean water program for the conservation group American Rivers.