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Trump budget would slash Great Lakes restoration funding

Sunlight dapples the surface of Lake Superior as it breaks through the clouds seen from Oberg Mountain near Lutsen, Minn. in October. (2017 file / News Tribune)

The federal budget proposal released by the Trump administration this week would slash funding for Great Lakes restoration by 90 percent, from $300 million this year to just $30 million next year, and would cut other programs aimed at keeping lakes and drinking water clean.

President Donald Trump's budget includes no money for so-called Clean Water Act Section 319 programs, which help communities reduce polluted runoff. That's down from $167 million last year.

The budget also makes deep cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been the lead agency in programs to restore the Great Lakes, slashing about 25 percent of the agency's budget and eliminating many EPA programs.

There was some good news in the budget for clean water efforts, with the administration including $2.65 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which provide low-interest loans to communities to fix and build wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. That's up $397 million from last year.

The Trump budget now goes to Congress, which will adopt some of it, change most and form its own federal government funding package for fiscal 2019 that must pass the House and Senate before going back to Trump to sign into law. Trump tried to slash Great Lakes funding in last year's proposed budget, but Congress included the full $300 million and Trump eventually signed the budget bill with the funding.

Critics say that slashing the funding for Great Lakes restoration makes no sense after a decade of advances in slowing the spread of exotic species, improving fish and wildlife habitat, dredging and capping legacy toxic sediment and reducing urban and agricultural runoff. Multiple restoration efforts have occured in the St. Louis River estuary in Duluth-Superior under the federal program.

"The Trump Administration budget is a non-starter. The 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, health, jobs and way of life deserve solutions to curb toxic algal outbreaks, halt invasive species like Asian carp, restore lost habitat, and clean up toxic contamination," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, in a statement. "It will once again be up to Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress to support Great Lakes restoration efforts that are producing results for our environment and economy in communities across the region. We look forward to working with Great Lakes leaders in the U.S. House and Senate to restore funding to these important programs to ensure that Great Lakes restoration remains a top national priority."

The coalition also criticized the administration's proposed "infrastructure" plan saying it actually makes less money available for key projects that protect human and environmental health.

Trump announced the $1.2 trillion budget proposal for the next fiscal year on Monday, including in it $23 billion for border security, $21 billion for infrastructure and $17 billion to fund efforts to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as increasing military spending by 13 percent to $80 billion.

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