Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unprecedented Great Lakes Restoration on the Chopping Block

When World War II tore the world apart, Muskegon was there for the United States as factories worked 24/7 and the city swelled beyond its own housing capacity. The housing shortage forced the workers to rent sleeping arangements in 8 hour shifts. Meanwhile the factories belched smoke, stoking the fires of industry with coal, discharching coal ash and heavy metals into the land and into the waterways.

That's been the price of industry.

Heavy pollution and 11,000 toxic spots in the State of Michigan from its industrial legacy: Mercury, lead, cadmium, PCBs. The state's dwindling resources have made clean-up efforts look bleak, especially in areas where drinking water quality is affected. So Obama's annual $450 million Great Lakes Restoration funding was something of an unprecedented godsend.

But of course it's one of the first things on the budget cutting chopping block.

The Obama administration called for billions in funding for Great Lakes restoration to be doled out in annual sums of around $475 million for five years.

When I say this is an unprecedented effort to clean up toxic spots and beat back the effects of invasive species and restore wetland areas, I mean UNPRECEDENTED. The Great Lakes, the blue gem set in the North American continent has been abused and ignored and plundered for the centuries Westerners had known of its existence. And for the first time, one of our presidents decided to take some serious, aggressive action to clean it up, restore the damage that had been done after a century in the center of America's heavy industry belt.

If folks wonder why I'd been a fan of the President...THIS initiative was among the big five reasons. I can't express how amazing and unappreciated this restoration goal was. But it never escaped my notice.

And now it's endangered by the Tea Party mentality in the US House of Representatives.

New political realities in Washington may reduce funding for cleanup and restoration projects in the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an unprecedented five-year program proposed by the Obama administration in 2009 to spend $475 million annually to remediate, restore and revive the region’s most environmentally damaged areas — or Areas of Concern — was met last year with much optimism among state and local environmental groups and officials.

In 2010, the full $475 million was allocated to the program, with hundreds of projects across the region’s seven states being funded.

This year, noting a new cash-conscious Congress, the administration is proposing $300 million for the program, a figure that could decrease more as Congress works the next few months to craft a budget for this fiscal year.

This is, to say the least...a bummer.

It's a major bummer.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to smash things, but it's pretty snowy outside and cold and I don't generally chop wood in the winter cuz I've already chopped the wood that needs chopping. So my smashing outlet is gone, so all I have left to do is blog about it.

Cities and states are strapped for money and the grim reality is that some regions rely on pollution controls and clean-up efforts to have drinkable water...usually some of the hardest hit regions. Regions that have been chewed up and spit out.

The State of Michigan is already facing a crisis with its clean up funding. Reducing the Great Lakes Restoration initiative is going to put further strain on that effort.

That, my friends, is what's known as trickle down economics...Fed Cuts so the states have to shoulder the cost, the State can't shoulder the cost, so the regular citizens need to shoulder the consequences.

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