Pollution cleanup in the Great Lakes is expected to accelerate dramatically, thanks to a $1 billion boost from Biden's infrastructure plan.
President Joe Biden on Thursday visited Lorain, Ohio, to tout $1 billion in funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that will go toward a massive restoration of the Great Lakes.
"For decades, there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans, but very little progress. It was slow, that changes today," Biden said, referring to previously underfunded efforts at pollution cleanup. Biden said the new funds would "allow the most significant restoration of the Great Lakes in the history of the Great Lakes."
Biden also noted that materials transported across the lakes are vital to the U.S. economy and that "good jobs" would be created in the process of repairs fueled by the infrastructure law. The resulting construction would "strengthen our supply chain and reduce costs," he added.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement that 40% of the funding allocated through the agency would go toward underserved communities. The spending priorities are meant to coincide with the Biden administration's Justice40 program which seeks to repair environmental damage disproportionately affecting communities with large Black and Latino populations that have historically been neglected.
The lakes have been identified as an area of environmental concern since a federal assessment issued in 1987, which identified damaged areas.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) described the "infusion of federal funding" as a "game changer for our state," noting that the lakes are experiencing pressure from new contamination and the ongoing climate crisis.
"With the largest ever investment in our Great Lakes, we now will greatly expand restoration efforts to preserve and strengthen the Great Lakes for future generations," Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) said.
The EPA announced that several cities with areas of concern would have their projects funded and completed by 2030 due to the new money. These include the Michigan cities of Clinton River, Detroit River, Rogue River, and Torch Lake, as well as cities in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
Biden's decision to fully fund cleanup efforts comes after years of the Trump administration repeatedly attempting to cut off funds for Great Lakes restoration.
Between 2017 and 2020, Trump proposed a range of funding cuts, including at one point suggesting completely removing funding for the project. In his last proposed federal budget while in office, he proposed cutting 90% of the funds.
The Alliance for the Great Lakes, a nonprofit advocating to protect the lakes, slammed Trump's actions in a February 2020 statement.
"Over the past three years, the Trump administration has gutted parts of the Clean Water Act and proposed major rollbacks of the National Environmental Policy Act, two of our nation's cornerstone environmental policies," the group said, accusing Trump of shortchanging the lakes.
Simultaneously, the Trump administration worked to cut regulations for coal plants, many of which are located along the Great Lakes. In 2020, Trump allowed those plants to bypass regulations created by the Obama administration that were designed to curb wastewater contaminants entering rivers and streams.
Casey Godwin, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan, told Michigan Live that Trump's actions were "concerning for the Great Lakes."
"Over the past 50 years we've seen these contaminants like mercury — which, a lot of mercury comes from that base from the coal industry — can persist in the lakes in their food web for decades," he said.
Nick Dodge of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters told the outlet that rollbacks of regulation by Trump were making pollution from coal plants negatively affecting the health of local communities "worse."
In his failed 2020 reelection campaign, Trump proposed a slight increase in the budget for Great Lakes restoration but still sought to cut funding for the EPA, which is tasked with oversight of polluters.
After a narrow Michigan win in the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton, Trump lost the state to Biden in 2020 by nearly 3 percentage points.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.