[USA] The political assault on Lake Erie got worse this week. The dust had hardly settled from a leaked budget memo revealing the potential demise of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative when a second round of bad news arrived.
A four-page document obtained by The Washington Post showed the Trump administration has proposed cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual budget by nearly $1 billion, essentially destroying the agency’s forecasting and tracking system of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie.
The proposed cuts also would potentially devastate NOAA’s Sea Grant College program – including Ohio State University’s iconic Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay — that assists in tracking the algal blooms, helps to train the next generation of coastal experts, and provides on-the-ground support of sustainable fisheries and workforce development.
Combined, the cuts would greatly reduce scientists’ ability to track and prevent future algal blooms such as the one in 2014 that forced Toledo’s water system to be shut down for three days, said Jeff Reutter, the former director of Ohio Sea Grant.
Such cuts “would virtually guarantee jeopardizing the safety of the American public,” Rick Spinrad, NOAA’s former chief scientist, told the Post.
NOAA, which is overseen by the Commerce Department, is the nation’s leading tracker of weather, hurricanes and climate change, providing data forecasts to local meteorologists. The agency also is responsible for exploring and protecting the ocean and the coastlines of the Great Lakes, and endangered marine mammals, fish and other wildlife.
The official budget proposals will be released next week by the Office of Management and Budget.
The NOAA news came just days after a leak that the White House may propose cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s $300 million annual budget by 97 percent to $10 million.
The GLRI forms the cornerstone of a program to protect and restore the largest system of fresh water in the world, by combating water pollution, especially toxic algal blooms, to prevent and control invasive species, and to restore habitat to protect native fish and wildlife.
Projects in Northeast Ohio that have received GLRI funds include $650,000 to eradicate invasive vegetation at the Mentor Marsh and the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve; $3 million for a Cuyahoga River urban riparian restoration project; $15 million for restoration of the Black River; $175,000 to the Cleveland Metroparks for a stormwater project at Wildwood Park; and $500,000 for restoration work on the Chagrin River watershed.
At stake is drinking water, jobs and recreation for 30 million people, and potential economic benefits of $80 billion to $100 billion from Great Lakes restoration work, according to the Brookings Institution.
Todd L. Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters- Great Lakes Coalition, said the Great Lakes restoration program has more bipartisan support in Congress than any conservation project in the past 35 years, and he hopes the new president will reconsider his pursuit of these devastating budget cuts.
Ambs said the budget proposals may be trial balloons floated by the White House to gauge sentiments in Congress, and he cites the responses of Scott Pruitt, the newly confirmed administrator of the U.S. EPA, as cause for optimism.
In an interview with an environmental policy-focused news outlet, E&E, Pruitt said,
“I am concerned about the grants that have been targeted, particularly around water infrastructure, and those very important state revolving funds.”
“If confirmed, I will continue EPA’s support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Pruitt said during confirmation hearings.
When asked if he would protect the Great Lakes program’s $300 million budget, however, he was noncommittal: “If confirmed, I will take into account that funding history and Congressional authorization when making recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget regarding EPA’s appropriations.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump also expressed support for the GLRI and Great Lakes conservation work.
“As president, Donald J. Trump will work alongside organizations such as the National Wildlife Foundation to clean up toxic sediments; protect and restore wildlife habitat and wetlands; reduce polluted runoff; halt new invasive species; and stop sewage from contaminating the lakes,” the Trump campaign said in October.
The GLRI cuts are part of a Trump budget proposal to slash $2 billion from the EPA’s budget in 2018, including cuts of up to 30 percent in federal funding to the state EPAs, said Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler.
“If these cuts materialize, they could have a significant impact on us,” Butler said. “We’re concerned about the information, but cautious not to react too soon.”
The potential $30 million cut from the Ohio EPA’s $200 million annual budget would likely force the agency to make major changes to Superfund cleanup programs and projects related to compliance with the Clean Water Act and clean air initiatives, Butler said.
“We have the summer to figure out how this might work,” Butler said, adding that he will join the Great Lakes Commission in Washington next week, and plans to talk with Pruitt and the Ohio Congressional delegation about the importance of retaining funding for all of the agency’s projects.
View original article at: Trump’s budget cuts could devastate Lake Erie algal bloom-tracking system, shut down Stone Lab