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Great Lakes coalition warns federal funding cuts would have adverse economic, environmental impact

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Satellite photo of Lake Erie algae taken in September.

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Although it’s expected that President Trump’s plan to gut Great Lakes programs will be “dead on arrival” in Congress again, a major coalition of environmental groups is prepared to show how such draconian cuts could severely hurt public health and the economy — not just the environment.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, a consortium of more than 150 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums, and museums representing millions of people, said Thursday its concerns go well beyond the Trump administration’s latest attempt to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 90 percent, from $300 million to $30 million. Last year, after initially calling for a similar reduction, the administration proposed eliminating the program.

Todd Ambs, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition campaign director, said the Trump plan as it pertains to the Great Lakes is “out of touch with reality” and “fails to meet the needs of millions of people.”

More than 40 million people live in the Great Lakes watershed, 30 million in the United States and 10 million in Canada. Many rely on the lakes as their primary source of drinking water.

Many of the proposed cuts would make it harder for cities such as Toledo to protect public health by keeping toxic algae out of their water systems, Mr. Ambs said. They also would make it harder for farmers to afford programs aimed at keeping algae-growing phosphorus out of the water.

He also said that, among other things, the proposed cuts would make it easier for Asian carp and other exotic species to get into the Great Lakes, which would harm the region’s $7 billion fishing industry and its multi-billion tourism industry.

Chad Lord, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition policy director, said the GLRI and other programs have “enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support” in the past.

But, he added: “We are by no means out of the woods.”

The GLRI is a program former President Barack Obama created in 2009 to help fund regional cleanup and restoration efforts.

The coalition, formed in 2006 in response to $23 billion in improvements former President George W. Bush’s administration identified but never funded, also expressed concerns about steep cuts the Trump administration has proposed for other federal programs, including those aimed to ward off Asian carp and other invasive species, cancer-causing PCBs and other toxic chemicals, as well as those that help improve wildlife habitat.

About a quarter of the U.S. EPA’s staff would be eliminated if the cuts are approved, and — just like last year — there are large cuts proposed for the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Federal funding for NOAA’s college sea grant program — deemed vital for Great Lakes efforts, especially because of western Lake Erie research generated by and coordinated Ohio Sea Grant and Michigan Sea Grant — would be eliminated by the Trump plan.

The Trump administration has not given an explanation for its proposed Great Lakes cuts.

Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts to the GLRI and other Great Lakes programs received bipartisan opposition from the region’s congressional delegation last year. Several of those elected officials — including Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown — spoke out against them when the latest Trump budget was released earlier this week. Also coming out in opposition has been the U.S. House Great Lakes Task Force, of which U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) is a co-chair.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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