The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday restored $150 million in funding that an earlier spending plan had cut from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and Republicans on the committee said they’ll strive to secure more money for the program.
The latest version of the bill would provide $210 million in 2014 for the initiative, which cleans pollution from the lakes, combats invasive species, and restores wetlands. That would be a reduction from the $285 million the program will get this year, but it’s significantly more than the $60 million that was in last weeks’ draft of the bill.
This is a big win for the Great Lakes region, but our work isn’t done,” said Russell Township GOP Rep. Dave Joyce, who offered the amendment to restore the money along with Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent. “It’s crucial that Congress works in a bipartisan manner to protect the entire Great Lakes region and preserve its economic might and environmental integrity.”
Joyce said the Great Lakes provide over 30 million Americans with clean drinking water and are directly connected to 1.5 million jobs that generate $62 billion in wages each year.
Joyce’s amendment restored the money by extending a federal helium program that sells gas to companies that use it to make products including smartphones and fiberoptic cables. The Congressional Budget Office says extending the program would give the government an extra $150 million in 2014 from helium sales.
Democrats on the funding committee, including Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Tim Ryan of the Niles area, had backed a different amendment that would have added $223 million to the program. Republicans opposed that alternative because it didn’t describe where the extra money would come from.
Kaptur noted that the Great Lakes restoration program used to get $475 million each year in federal money, and said even that amount wasn’t sufficient to fight the algae blooms and invasive species that threaten the world’s largest freshwater fishery.
“Those of us from the Great Lakes are outnumbered in the Congress regionally,” she said. “This is our moment to plead for you to please provide us full funding.”
Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted the bill’s earlier version cut Great Lakes programs too drastically and said even the $210 million level is still “probably not enough.”
“We will work to try to get it to a higher level,” Simpson said.
Great Lakes environmental groups welcomed the increase, but agreed that $210 million won’t adequately fund cleanup programs. Jordan Lubetkin of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said $300 million would be more appropriate.
“The reemergence of algal blooms, ongoing beach closings, statewide fish consumption advisories and toxic pollution continue to remind us that the Great Lakes desperately need our help,” Lubetkin said.
Former Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority Chairman Michael Wager, a Democrat who is seeking Joyce’s congressional seat, accused Joyce of playing “the Washington game” by voting for last week’s significant cuts to “a vitally important program so he could turn around and appear heroic to his constituents by restoring a portion of that funding.”
“For that he wants to receive kudos,” said Moreland Hills’ Wager, who noted that funds would still be reduced by $75 million from 2013 levels. “He gets none from me.”
Joyce spokeswoman Christyn Keyes said Joyce’s efforts were “about the Great Lakes, not a political campaign.”
“Rep. Joyce worked in a bipartisan manner to secure an additional $150 million to protect one of the greatest economic and environmental resources in the region.” said Keyes. “That’s a fact, not politics.”