United States considers $300 million for Great Lakes clean-up budget

Brent Patterson
7 years ago

There is a stark contrast between funding in the United States to clean up the Great Lakes and the Harper government's inaction on this file.

The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel comments, "Now that Congress has reached a deal on the budget, congressional committees will be spending the next week or so allocating funds for various government programs. One thing they should not forget is to provide adequate funding to protect and restore the Great Lakes. And adequate funding in this case means $300 million. ...This funding goes to programs that include cleaning up toxic waste, combating the threat of invasive species, such as Asian carp, and reducing storm water runoff."

"The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, his first year in office. Initially funded at $475 million, the program received $300 million the next two years and $285 million last year. Back in summer, a House subcommittee voted to slash the fund to $60 million, but the House Appropriations Committee restored much of that funding, to $210 million. That still doesn't do the job. This is not money for programs that would be 'nice' to have, as one of the slashers put it last year. This is money for programs vital to the health of the Great Lakes, which serve not only as an international environmental treasure but as an economic engine for a large part of the United States and Canada."

"According to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, the initiative has invested more than $1.3 billion in more than 1,700 projects to clean up toxic pollution, reduce runoff from cities and farms, restore habitat and fight invasive species such as Asian carp. The coalition reports that funding has created jobs; and a Brookings Institution report shows that for every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration, there is a $2 return in the form of increased fishing, tourism and home values."

The editorial concludes, "Congress should make sure it allocates that $300 million to the initiative in this budget."

And in Canada?

The Council of Canadians has called for, "$500 million to implement a Great Lakes Action Plan by establishing a Great Lakes commons framework based on local decision-making and cleaning up areas of concern and priority zones, controlling invasive species, and creating an inventory on pollutants that are not covered by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement or the National Pollutant Release Inventory."

This demand was made most recently in the 2013 Alternative Federal Budget, which, according to a Canadian Press report, "Finance Minister Jim Flaherty dismissed out of hand, sight unseen." The Ottawa Citizen reported at the time of Flaherty's comments that the Harper government has cut $60 billion in corporate taxes since first taking power in 2006 - reducing the country's corporate tax rate to the lowest among G8 countries. Harper is now pursuing austerity measures with a federal deficit estimated at $26 billion and seeking to 'balance the books' within two years.

When we first made our demand in March 2011, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui stated, "The Obama administration had originally proposed $475 million for Great Lakes clean up, even the Republican party supported $225 million for the Restoration Initiative. The federal government needs to increase funding significantly in order to protect the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and protected bio-region."

The 2010 federal budget allocated $8 million a year to Environment Canada to "implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes". That's about $2 million for each of the four Great Lakes that border Canadian provinces (Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States). In June 2010, the Harper government spent $2 million on the 'fake lake' for the one-day G20 summit in Toronto. In other words, in 2010 the Harper government budgeted as much for cleaning up Lake Ontario as they spent on the fake lake.

The 2011 federal budget stated, "The Great Lakes are fundamental to the well-being of millions of Canadians and Americans who live and work along their shores. Protecting water quality and ecosystem health in the Great Lakes is vital to ensuring that Canadians can continue to depend on this rich ecosystem for their drinking water, for recreation and for jobs. Building on the existing Great Lakes Action Plan and Action Plan for Clean Water, Budget 2011 announces an additional $5 million over two years to improve near shore water and ecosystem health, and better address the presence of phosphorous in the Great Lakes."

As we watch the watch the budget debate over $300 million in the US for the Great Lakes, the Harper government's budget of about $10 million for the lakes looks increasingly pathetic.

Further reading
Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever by Maude Barlow
IJC chair pleads for the Great Lakes
Mayors call on Harper and Obama to protect the Great Lakes
$100 million in cuts by Harper to DFO further endanger water protection
Council of Canadians opposes Harper's closing of Great Lakes-related museum in Montreal