Biden’s infrastructure plan earmarks $1B for Great Lakes cleanup
The lakes provide drinking water for 40 million people and underpin the economy in eight Northeastern and Midwestern states and two Canadian provinces.
Long-delayed cleanup of Great Lakes harbors and tributary rivers fouled with industrial toxins will accelerate dramatically with a $1 billion boost from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, senior administration officials say.
The infusion from the bipartisan measure enacted in November, combined with annual funding through an ongoing recovery program, will enable agencies by 2030 to finish work on 22 sites designated a quarter-century ago as among the region’s most degraded, officials said on Feb. 17.
Biden planned to highlight the $1 trillion package’s benefits for the lakes, which hold about one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, during an afternoon visit to Lorain, Ohio.
“With this investment, President Biden is delivering major environmental, public health and economic wins for the Great Lakes region,” said Mitch Landrieu, a White House senior adviser.
The lakes provide drinking water for 40 million people and underpin the economy in eight Northeastern and Midwestern states and two Canadian provinces. They fueled a 20th century industrial boom that generated wealth and jobs but caused ecological devastation.
Notorious images from the region including flames on the surface of the Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie at Cleveland, helped inspire enactment of the Clean Water Act and other signature environmental laws.
The U.S. and Canada listed 43 sites — 31 of them in the U.S. — as toxic hot spots in 1987, largely because of contaminated sediments that make the waters unsuitable for fishing, swimming and other uses.
But while cleanup plans were crafted, they languished with little funding until the Obama administration kicked off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010.
It’s been one of the few matters on which the region’s congressional Democrats and Republicans routinely agree. They thwarted President Donald Trump’s early efforts to gut the program, which GOP lawmakers from Michigan eventually persuaded him to support.
Because of progress under the initiative, which has received nearly $4 billion, the Environmental Protection Agency has dropped six areas of concern from the list and finished work at 11 others. They’ll also be removed after scientists determine they have recovered, depending on factors such as whether wildlife populations are thriving.
The more than 6,000 projects funded under the restoration initiative also deal with some of the lakes’ other biggest problems. They include invasive species such as quagga mussels that unravel food chains; toxic algae blooms caused by agricultural runoff and sewage overflows; and loss of wetlands and other wildlife habitat.
The billion-dollar bonus from the infrastructure package will enable the EPA and other federal agencies to devote more resources to those issues from the program’s core budget. Congress voted separately in 2021 to increase the initiative’s annual funding from $300 million to $475 million over five years.