Obama Administration Supports Continuing Investment in Great Lakes Restoration

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

President’s Goal Announced at White House Briefing with Great Lakes Leaders

Washington, D.C. – President Obama’s proposal to expand the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) beyond its current FY14 time frame was announced today while an invited group of the region’s leaders were in town for a briefing with senior White House officials.

Congress and the president have provided more than $1 billion for the GLRI since it first made history in 2009 as the largest commitment to Great Lakes restoration in a U.S. presidential budget. The sweeping initiative funds are designated to curb the influx of invasive species, clean beaches, remove toxic pollution and restore fish and wildlife habitat.

The announcement was made as some 80 of the Great Lakes region’s environmental, recreation, business and academic leaders met with senior White House officials today to discuss clean water, environmental and economic priorities in the region. Participants were invited to the briefing at the Executive Office Building, co-hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Public Engagement, during Great Lakes Day events in Washington this week.

“Millions of people rely on the Great Lakes for fresh drinking water, recreation and economic vitality,” said Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “By expanding our investment in the Great Lakes, the Obama administration is protecting one of the nation’s — and the world’s — most valuable natural and economic assets.”

“A commitment to extending GLRI funding is critical to protecting our lakes, our national parks and our local economies,” said Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “In Michigan, one GLRI project alone has created 125 jobs and produced more than $66 million in economic benefits to the state.”

“This is an investment that will benefit the environment and the economy,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “Great Lakes programs are producing results — but there’s more to do. Today’s announcement signals that the Obama Administration is in this fight for the long haul.”

Economic recovery and environmental restoration were significant themes in the day’s discussion, which connected the goals of reducing nutrient pollution, cleaning up beaches and removing invasive species, to more tourism dollars for local communities and small businesses. Among the highlights:

Asian Carp/Chicago Waterway: The groups praise the administration’s effort to build up agency budgets to support short-term Asian carp deterrents, and say they are pleased to learn that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy believes it is possible to shorten the timeline for the corps’ Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). The congressional-ordered study – requiring the corps to determine options available to stop the transfer of invasive species between the two watersheds — is currently scheduled for completion in 2015. Looking forward, the groups seek a better understanding of how the administration will compress the study timeline and focus the effort on analyzing how to permanently separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

Ballast Water Discharge: The groups credit U.S. EPA for requiring treatment technology on board vessels for the first time, as well as for working to retain ballast water exchange for the Great Lakes. But they note that EPA’s new draft permit has weaknesses — particularly in terms of technology availability determinations and the timeline for implementation — that could compromise this modest progress.

Cleaner beaches: The groups say they are pleased to see a decrease in beach closings in Chicago and elsewhere. They urge the administration to continue supporting such progress in future years as beaches are a primary way people experience the Great Lakes, and serve as an economic engine for dozens of coastal communities.

Nutrient pollution: The groups praise the yeoman’s effort by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and EPA to pool their resources and coordinate on the ground in the western Lake Erie basin to address the already-critical algae-bloom threat. The groups say they anticipate the agencies using every tool in the box to drive down phosphorus loads to western Lake Erie and other critical areas around the lakes.

Toxic cleanups: The groups applaud EPA’s tight focus and spending priority on cleaning up and delisting Areas of Concern, going way back to the early 2000s and passage of the Legacy Act. Such contamination holds Great Lakes communities back from revitalization and cleanups should continue as a priority for the administration, the groups say.

Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said that overall, “I was pleased and inspired to see and hear the highest levels of the Obama administration focused on restoring the Great Lakes in Washington this week. A healthy Great Lakes is a resource that everyone in the region can build on as we revitalize both our environment and economy. I look forward to continuing this collaborative work to restore the lakes and prevent threats from undermining our strong record of success.”

The briefing included opening remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson about business development and jobs in the Great Lakes region, and a panel discussion with USDA Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills, DOI Deputy Secretary David Hayes, and Cameron Davis, EPA senior advisor to the Administrator for Great Lakes.

“The administration made unprecedented investments in restoring the Great Lakes and made it a priority to work with state, city, environmental, academic and business leaders toward lasting solutions,” said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House CEQ. “Today’s gathering at the White House is another important step in advancing the partnership between federal agencies and community leaders that has fostered success for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its goal of a healthy environment and a thriving economy for all Americans.”

The Great Lakes account for more than 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water, with more than 30 million people living in the Great Lakes Basin.

Contacts:

Alliance for the Great Lakes: Joel Brammeier, President and CEO, 773-590-6494 (cell), jbrammeier@greatlakes.org

Environmental Law & Policy Center: Howard Learner, Executive Director, 312-953-6841 (cell) HLearner@elpc.org; or Jill Geiger, Director of Communications and Marketing, 312-795-3703 (office)

National Parks Conservation Association: Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional Director, 312-343-7216 (cell), lmcclure@npca.org

National Wildlife Federation-Great Lakes office: Andy Buchsbaum, Regional Executive Director, 734-717-3665 (cell), buchsbaum@nwf.org

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