President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal calls for a 90 percent funding cut for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which generally costs about $300 million per year. This is the third time the administration has called on Congress to slash the program, which has bipartisan support from lawmakers in Michigan and other states in the region.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the governors of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have called on Congress to protect the GLRI, which began under President George W. Bush. It was first funded during President Barack Obama’s administration. Nick Schroeck, director of clinical programs at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, says it was originally created to clean up long-term toxic industrial pollution in the region and restore wildlife habitats.
“The idea was that if you clean up some of these contaminated areas, you see a corresponding boost in property values,” Schroeck says. He cited a University of Michigan study on the economic benefits of the GLRI.
“For every $1 spent in either cleanup or habitat restoration in the Great Lakes, you see over $3 increase in property values or increase in economic activity such as kayaking and recreation,” Schroeck says.
The GLRI also provides funding for local projects such as tree planting in residential neighborhoods. Schroeck says planting new trees can improve water quality, depending on the types of trees and the root systems they have.
“They can absorb pollutants,” Schroeck says. “They can also help with runoff. So if you have an area that maybe is prone to flooding—and when you have flooding, that can pick up all sorts of contaminants and sediments from the street and wash into a waterway.”
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.