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Howard A. Learner

The Successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is Critical Amid a Changing Climate

ELPC provided testimony in support of Great Lakes Funding to the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee

Since 2008, ELPC has engaged with policymakers and partners to build, effectively implement, and expand the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Restoring the Great Lakes creates substantial environmental, public health, and recreational benefits, while fostering economic growth. GLRI is a program that has worked very well and has demonstrated consistent successes. ELPC strongly supported reauthorization of the GLRI and the ramp up of funding to $475 million in 2026, matching the funding the program received in its initial year.

On April 10, 2024, ELPC testified in support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. We request that the Committee fully fund the GLRI program with at least the authorized $450 million for FY 2025 and, hopefully, consider a higher amount. Here are some highlights from my testimony.

Read Full Testimony

Why Protecting the Great Lakes Matters

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21% of the planet’s surface fresh water supply, and 42 million people rely on the Great Lakes for safe drinking water. They provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species. They support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and Great Lakes recreation draws millions of tourists who boost the economies of shoreline communities. In short, the Great Lakes are where many millions of people live, work, and play.

GLRI is Vitally Important, and Successful

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a breakthrough program, injecting critical funding and structure that had been missing in order to restore the lakes. Over the past 14 years, the GLRI has achieved strong results with sustained funding. As the third GLRI Action Plan states: “the GLRI has been a catalyst for unprecedented federal agency coordination, which has, in turn, produced unprecedented results.” The program supports shoreline and wetlands protection projects, keeping out invasive species, and reducing harmful algal blooms. Congress’ recognition of the effectiveness of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is reflected in the strong bipartisan support of fully funding this program with increasing funding.

The GLRI funds and supports thousands of projects across the Great Lakes states to:

  • Improve water quality for safe drinking water supplies, fisheries, and aquatic habitats.
  • Protect shorelines and restore wetlands.
  • Protect and restore native habitats and species.
  • Help prevent and control invasive species.
  • Clean up toxic sediments on lake bottoms.
  • Reduce agricultural and other nutrient pollution that causes harmful algal blooms.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative creates an effective system of coordination among federal agencies, state entities, and local partners to achieve important outcomes to make a meaningful difference for the Great Lakes. Since its inception, the program has achieved strong results with sustained funding.

GLRI has broad regional economic benefits. A University of Michigan study showed that every federal dollar spent on GLRI projects between 2010 and 2016 will produce $3.35 in additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region through 2036.

Rising Great Lakes Challenges Merit Full Funding & More

While recognizing the GLRI’s success, the growing threats from climate change and recurring severe algal outbreaks are getting worse.

ELPC commissioned 18 leading Midwestern and Canadian university and research center scientists to write the state-of-the-science report, An Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Great Lakes, which we released in 2019, along with recommended policy solutions. The scientists concluded that climate change is causing significant and far-reaching impacts on the Great Lakes region, including increasingly extreme water level fluctuations, which wreak havoc on communities, homes, beaches, businesses, and the overall shoreline’s built environment. Annual precipitation in the region has increased at a higher percentage than in the rest of the country, and more precipitation is coming in unusually large events, such as derechos and intense storms. Lake Michigan had record-high water levels in 2021 – especially when whipped by strong winds and large waves, this caused extensive flooding that damaged the shoreline and infrastructure.

Climate change impacts on the Great Lakes also exacerbate the growing problem of agricultural pollution – mostly fertilizers and animal waste – that is the principal cause of severe recurring toxic algae outbreaks in western Lake Erie and other Great Lakes areas like Green Bay. The Ohio EPA concluded that agricultural pollution accounts for about 90% of the phosphorus flowing into western Lake Erie.

The current GLRI Action Plan provides a detailed look at strategies to reduce this harmful agricultural pollution, noting that GLRI projects have kept more than one million pounds of phosphorus out of the Great Lakes. GLRI funds could be used to support wetlands restoration to more effectively capture phosphorus, and water testing and monitoring to identify effective approaches to reducing agricultural pollution. A more robust GLRI will continue to be an important source of solutions for this urgent problem.


In conclusion, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and I commend the House Appropriations Committee and this Subcommittee’s strong support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative with each year’s budget. GLRI is a successful program and a model for federal, state, and local cooperation. We urge the committee to fully fund the program with at least the authorized $450 million for FY 2025 and, also, to consider additional funding. In addition to this funding request, the Environmental Law & Policy Center is pleased to support H.R. 7257, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2024 to extend the program through FY 2031.

Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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