President Trump departed from his own budget plan last week — in a good way. During a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., he declared support for “full funding of $300 million” for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The White House budget proposal, released three weeks earlier, calls for $30 million directed to the program. Actually, that lesser sum fit a pattern, the president in his two previous budget plans proposing first no funding and then the same $30 million.
Fortunately, in each year, Congress has come to the rescue, Republicans and Democrats carrying the cause, appropriating roughly $300 million, as lawmakers have since the initiative got its start nine years ago. Now the president has made the task easier, that is, unless he changes his mind, something he tends to do.
Worth noting is that the president didn’t just declare his backing. He surrounded the news with his familiar loose talk. “I support the Great Lakes. Always have,” he told the crowd. “They are beautiful. They are big, very deep. Record deepness, right?” He described the $300 million as an amount “you have been trying to get for over 30 years,” adding: “So we will get it done.”
Again, that sum has been typical, and a step down from $475 million approved in the first year. So, no one has been waiting for three decades or more. Neither has the president been the supporter he claims, as his budget plans testify. The Great Lakes rates as the world’s largest system of fresh water. It does not feature “record deepness.” As the fact checkers quickly pointed out, Crater Lake in Oregon is the country’s deepest, and Lake Baikal in Russia is the deepest on the planet.
What the president has done is advance the budgeting process, his administration now on board. His White House isn’t the first to seek less for the initiative. If the Obama White House put up the initial funding, it later proposed paring back. That is when the $300 million became the standard. Yet, if anything, the restoration deserves additional resources.
Recall how the initiative got started. It amounts to the northern version of the earlier effort to restore the Everglades in Florida. The Great Lakes restoration stemmed from scientific and other analyses revealing persistent environmental problems degrading and threatening further its ecosystem. Here is a natural treasure and economic engine, not to mention source of drinking water for tens of millions, requiring substantial help. At the start, the estimates were the restoration as a whole would cost as much as $25 billion.
Tally the past appropriations, and the total investment so far has been roughly $4 billion. In other words, there is much work ahead to reach full funding. The case for doing more rests in what has been accomplished already through more than 4,000 projects, across eight states, from improving water quality to reviving natural habitats.
One of the more notable achievements over the years in this part of the region involves the restoration of a portion of Tinker’s Creek, along with a meadow and wetland, near the high school in Hudson. The outcome includes protection from flooding. The Mentor Marsh, along the Lake Erie shoreline, has been rescued from invasive species (a water reed) and returned to its natural ecology, including native fish and wildlife. These and the many other projects are about seeing the Great Lakes thrive and endure.
In that way, there are few more rewarding public investments, among other things, one generation fulfilling its obligation to the next. So it is good to see the president step up, even with his laughable claims and Congress ready to do the job, anyway.