For the third year in a row, President Donald Trump has proposed nearly wiping out funding for the Great Lakes preservation program. And yet on Thursday night, less than a month after proposing to slash 90 percent the initiative’s budget, Trump told supporters at a rally in Michigan that he would fund the program.
The reality is, Congress controls the federal purse strings and has in the past disregarded his calls for those sharp cuts, instead continuing to approve the funding at higher levels. A key appropriator called Trump’s assertions that he supports the program “phony.”
The White House’s budget blueprint released March 11 proposed funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $30 million, down from the $300 million Congress approved last year.
But while speaking before supporters in Michigan, Trump did an about-face, saying he supports the lakes.
Watch: Trump’s Great Lakes backtrack
“They are big, very deep . . . record deepness, right?” he said. “And I’m going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes restoration, which you’ve been trying to get for over 30 years.”
Not only are the Great Lakes not among the world’s deepest, the multi-agency initiative to conserve the region only begun in 2010. The initiative was founded to boost efforts to protect and restore what is considered the largest system of fresh surface water in the world, covering Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.
Congress approved $475 million for the program in its first year and has funded the initiative at around $300 million every year since.
“Three years in a row, President Trump’s budget proposals have gutted Great Lakes funding — but last night in Michigan, we’re supposed to believe he started caring?” House Appropriations’ Interior-Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Betty McCollum told CQ through an aide. “It’s phony.”
The Great Lakes’ shorelines are shared by the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and their conservation programs enjoys bipartisan support, even in a deeply divided Congress. Five of those states voted for Trump in 2016.
The restoration effort is overseen by several agencies, including the EPA, the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers along with state and local authorities. The program was founded to protect the area’s ecosystem, including combating invasive species, preserving wildlife habitats and controlling pollution.
The lakes provide drinking water for more than 48 million people in the U.S. and Canada, and directly create more than 1.5 million jobs and $60 billion in wages yearly, according to the Great Lakes Commission. The lakes are also a habitat for more than 3,500 plant and animal species.
Both Democrats and Republicans have scolded the Trump administration for wanting to nearly decimate its funding.
“As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which approves funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, I would have never allowed Trump’s gutting of GLRI to make it through Congress without a fight,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who is also chairwoman of the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee. “It’s an insult to the 30 million people who rely on the Great Lakes that he would even put such a disastrous proposal on the table.”
Ohio Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. David Joyce have also spoken up against Trump’s proposal to cut funding for the program. Joyce has said the budget request does not treat the Great Lakes as the as the “natural treasure’ they are.
“You can call me a one-trick pony about the Great Lakes, but this program is very important for me,” Joyce, who is ranking member on the House Appropriation’s Interior-Environment Subcommittee, said at a Tuesday hearing to examine the president’s budget request.
Appropriators, who will consider Trump’s budget proposal as they write the fiscal 2020 Interior-Environment funding bill, have already indicated they will disregard the calls for a cut.
“Democrats and Republicans in Congress will fully fund Great Lakes restoration like we have in the past, and we will hold this administration accountable for implementing the law,” McCollum said. “President Trump can proclaim what he wants, but the power to allocate taxpayer dollars is squarely in the hands of Congress.”