Updated, 11:28 a.m., 12/6/20 with comments from Amash’s office
As the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate was dispatching with President Donald Trump’s impeachment Wednesday, the Democratic-led U.S. House overwhelmingly voted to boost funding for the Great Lakes.
The House voted 373-45 to reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which helps to clean up the lakes, protect them from invasive species and preserves them as a safe source of drinking water.
The legislation will increase funding in Fiscal Year 2022 from $300 million to $375 million. The increase will grow by $25 million each year until it reaches $475 million in FY 2026.
The Michigan delegation voted 13-1 in favor of H.R. 4031, with only Cascade Township U.S. Rep. Justin Amash — the chamber’s lone independent — voting no.
“Rep. Amash supports the federal government’s continued efforts on invasive species and other interstate matters, but the relevant committee could not provide a substantive justification for a 58% increase in this program’s funding, especially at a time when the country is $23 trillion in debt,” Amash spokeswoman Poppy Nelson said. “This unsustainable debt will have a devastating impact on our environment and well-being over the long run.”*
The bipartisan group of 13 all were co-sponsors.
“Today is a huge victory for our Great Lakes – which are so important to all of us in southwest Michigan, across the state, and around the country,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph). “Today we passed bipartisan legislation that will make sure we responsibly fund the GLRI for several years to come. This program is such a necessary tool to preserve our Great Lakes for the four million people who call the shoreline home, the 60 commercial harbors that create incredible economic activity, and the billions of dollars generated from tourism. Don’t mess with the Great Lakes.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) noted the importance of the legislation to Michigan, the only state in the Great Lakes basin.
“In Michigan, we are the stewards of the Great Lakes, because they are the backbone of our economy and our way of life,” Slotkin said. “We may not always think about it when we’re enjoying our beautiful lakes, but protecting and maintaining our Great Lakes takes investment and commitment — and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been instrumental over the years in keeping our lakes clean and safe in order to power our state and our economy. Today’s vote renews that funding for another six years, and I’m thrilled to see it continues to receive strong, bipartisan support.”
The GLRI has been a source of consternation for several years. In his FY 2020 budget, Trump proposed wiping out 90% of the program’s funding from $300 million to just $30 million.
That prompted strong criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike in Michigan. U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) called the GLRI a “critical program” and vowed to work in a bipartisan manner to save it. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led a group of five Great Lakes governors who wrote a letter to the president advocating for the funding. In June, she sent a letter to federal lawmakers asking for funding to be increased to $475 million annually.
Finally, at his 2020 campaign kickoff in Grand Rapids last March, Trump promised he would not slash the GLRI. Huizenga told the Advance after the event that he and other GOP members made their case to Trump that day and he was “thrilled he [Trump] responded the way he did.”
“I support the Great Lakes. They’re beautiful, they’re big, very deep,” Trump said at the rally.
Despite the Trump administration’s original budget plan cutting GLRI funding, that didn’t stop Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler from touting the program at an October press conference in Detroit.
“The Trump administration is taking action to improve water quality while boosting local economies across the country,” said Wheeler.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) blasted at the time the Trump administration’s “terrible record when it comes to protecting clean water and our environment.”