A bipartisan oasis: Pa.’s U.S. House Dems, Repubs boost funding for Great Lakes

    Lake Erie lakefront. Photo by Dave Buckle, via Flickr Commons

    By Susan J. Demas

    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 2022 from $300 million to $375 million. The increase will grow by $25 million each year until it reaches $475 million in FY 2026.

    All nine Democratic members of Pennsylvania’s Capitol Hill delegation voted in favor of the bill, as did seven of nine Keystone State Republicans. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican whose 16th District seat borders Lake Erie, was among the GOP ‘Yes’ votes.

    GOP U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser, of northeastern Pennsylvania’s 9th District, and Lloyd Smucker, of Lancaster County’s 11th District, were marked as non-voting, an official House roll call showed.

    Ahead of debates, Wolf, four other guvs urge 2020 Dems to prioritize the Great Lakes

    The GLRI has been a source of consternation for several years. In his FY 2020 budget, Trump proposed wiping out 90 percent of the program’s funding from $300 million to just $30 million.

    During his first year in office, Trump sought to eliminate funding for the program entirely. And in 2018, he also suggested cutting funding from $300 million to $30 million.

    That prompted strong criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike in Michigan.

    Michigan GOP U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga called the GLRI a “critical program” and vowed to work in a bipartisan manner to save it.

    Whitmer wants 58% federal funding hike for Great Lakes

    Michigan’s Democratic governor, 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 Michigan 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.

    Susan J. Demas is editor of The Michigan Advance, a sibling site of the Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story.