EPA unveils 5-year Great Lakes protection plan

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday released its five-year plan to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

“We need to make sure that the Great Lakes will be there for the next generation,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Nexstar in Washington earlier this week.

Roughly 40 million Americans rely on the massive freshwater lakes for drinking water. Dozens of local economies are directly linked to their vitality.

President Donald Trump’s administration repeatedly proposed cutting funding for the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which backs protections for the lakes and their watersheds. Each time, the money was later assured by Congress. Visiting Michigan earlier this year, Trump said he would guarantee the full $300 million for the program.

Wheeler visited Michigan Tuesday to announce the EPA’s program for the lakes. He said the funding will go to clean up contaminants in the water, protect native wildlife and keep out invasive species, like Asian carp.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress that we’ve over the last 10 years on the EPA action plans for the Great Lakes and we’re committing to a lot more progress,” Wheeler said.

“We’re very pleased about the additional attention that the Great Lakes is getting,” Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who chairs Congress’ bipartisan Great Lakes Task Force, said. “There’s a number of things just beyond the dollars that can happen.”

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates say the EPA’s plan on its own isn’t enough.

“If they want to do something big and bold, they would accept and promote our legislation, which would over time take the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative up to $475 million,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., also on the task force, said.

“I welcome Administrator Wheeler’s enthusiasm to protect the Great Lakes, but any plan is only as good as the resources behind it,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., added in a statement. “Michigan families haven’t forgotten the fact that the Trump Administration repeatedly tried to eliminate Great Lakes funding that was restored by a bipartisan effort across our state. If President Trump wants to be more than just talk, he should endorse my Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act that will extend and expand funding for our Great Lakes and waterways.”

“Having a plan is great, it’s critical. But any plan is only as good as the resources we put behind it,” agreed Jessie Ritter of the National Wildlife Federation, urging the EPA to listen to lawmakers advocating for the lakes’ futures.

The EPA plan now moves to Congress to be approved and funding for the next two years.