Trump vows full funding for Great Lakes

Alexander Sinn • Apr 2, 2019 at 7:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, made a prediction at a breakfast with business leaders in Spring Lake last month.

The congressman said he expected funding would be restored to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which was eliminated in President Trump’s first proposed budget. Bending Trump’s ear on his campaign stop in Grand Rapids last week, Huizenga and other Republican officials convinced the president to fully fund the program.

The GLRI has since its inception in 2010 maintained about $300 million a year for endeavors such as the cleanup of pollution, invasive species management and restoration of habitat in the region. After pressure from officials like Huizenga, who chairs the GLRI, and House Democrats, Trump provided just $30 million in the budget for the program.

At his campaign rally at the Van Andel Arena on March 28, Trump praised Huizenga and U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet. Then the president announced his commitment to funding the program.

“I support the Great Lakes,” Trump said during his speech. “Always have. They are beautiful. They are big. Very deep. Record deepness, right?”

In a statement, Huizenga said the program is a bipartisan endeavor and a “national priority.”

“As President Trump reiterated (March 28) after my conversation with him and his team, it is vital that protecting and preserving the Great Lakes remains a national priority,” the congressman said.

The president also said Congress has been trying to get full funding “for over 30 years,” while the program was established under Obama and funded at $300 million each year from 2014 to 2017. Huizenga said he fought attempts under Obama to cut the funding.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, criticized the president’s remarks on social media.

“For three years, President Trump's budget has nearly eliminated the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which helps to stop invasive species like Asian carp,” Kildee said. “Yet now the president is taking credit for restoring cuts that his own budget previously called for. It's this type of speaking out of both sides of your mouth that people hate about politicians.”

Tim Meyer, vice chairman of Ottawa County Democrats, said the announcement paid lip service to voters. He said the program has bipartisan support, and elimination would not be approved by Congress.

“Congress passes the budget,” he said. “It’s not (Trump’s) budget. You’re not going to get a budget through Congress removing all the funding to the Great Lakes initiative. It’s got support from both parties. Now he’s claiming credit for that.”

Protecting the Great Lakes is part of a broader need to combat the effects of climate change, Meyer said, which Trump has not taken seriously. In his speech, the president said he was committed to the fossil fuel industry and mocked the Democrat-proposed Green New Deal.

The president said he knows “a lot about wind,” suggesting, “If it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television that night.”

“The huge, big picture is global warming,” Meyer said. “(Trump) mocks any effort or any research or people who are experts in their fields on that, and that’s who he attracts to his rallies. That’s a serious issue and most Americans think that.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and partnering agencies are currently gathering public input for an action plan for 2020-24 Great Lakes restoration efforts.

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