The U.S. House of Representatives passed a controversial spending bill over the weekend that would reduce the current federal budget by more than $61 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year, threatening programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
One of the federal agencies facing major cuts is the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill would allocate $225 million to the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — a significantly lower figure compared to the $475 million President Barack Obama proposed for the GLRI in 2010 and the $300 million he proposed for it in 2011. However, if passed, the cut wouldn’t affect specific University-sponsored research projects on the Great Lakes.
Additional cuts to the EPA budget would prevent the agency from gathering data on industrial greenhouse gas emissions, controlling greenhouse gases released by stationary sources and increasing gasoline’s ethanol amount from 10 to 15 percent.
The origins of the GLRI stretch back to 2004 when former President George W. Bush issued an executive order for the EPA and other federal agencies to form the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to coordinate and prioritize restoration efforts in the Great Lakes region.
In 2010, when Obama announced he would allocate $475 million to jumpstart the GLRI, the work done by the IATF over the previous five years translated into an EPA-led, interagency initiative that would target the most critical problems in the Great Lakes region, including invasive aquatic species, non-point source pollution and contaminated sediment.
Jennifer Read, assistant director and research coordinator for the Michigan Sea Grant — a partnership between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University aimed at conserving the Great Lakes — said in an interview last week that she anticipated that the U.S. House would most likely pass the Continuing Resolution by the end of the week.
“I would say the budget cuts we’re looking at are not unexpected, but they’re still sort of … short-sighted because of what it is we’re turning down in training the next generation of scientists, understanding restoration science better, faster and restoring our natural resource base here, which is going to be the basis of our next economy,” she said.
No current Michigan Sea Grant projects will be affected by federal budget cuts, Read said. Having received $1.5 million from the GLRI, the Michigan Sea Grant is currently leading two restoration projects.
The Green Marina Education and Outreach project focuses on reducing pollution by developing better training instruments for people partaking in boating and marina activities. The Restoring Native Fish Habitat in the St. Clair River project aims to increase spawning areas for native fish species in the St. Clair River, according to Read, who is a co-principal investigator on the St. Clair River project.
The Michigan Sea Grant is also collaborating on five other projects funded by the GLRI, including one aimed at containing the spread of invasive aquatic species and another monitoring beach contaminants through laser technology.
While these initiatives will continue, Read said, budget cuts will take a toll on future GLRI endeavors to investigate unexplored issues in restoration science.
“(Restoration science) requires a lot of adaptive management — that is, being able to monitor and understand what’s happening in the result of your restoration activity and tweak it as you need to and follow up in later years, so having less dollars to do that activity means … we’re able to do less,” she said.
The Continuing Resolution — known as H.R. 1 — is an indication of the strong anti-spending sentiment among the Republican majority in the House. The bill needs to pass in the U.S. Senate and then be signed by Obama to be turned into law. The federal government is at risk of shutting down if an appropriations bill isn’t passed by March 4.
After the bill passed in the House on Saturday, Hal Rogers (R–KY), chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, expressed his firm support for the bill in a statement that day. The bill passed with a 235-189 majority and addresses the need for the nation to reduce its deficit.
“We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed,” he wrote in the statement. “While these choices were difficult to make, we strived to spread the sacrifice fairly, weeding out waste and excess, with a razor-sharp focus on making the most out of every tax dollar.”