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Other Opinions: It's working, don't give up on effort to clean up Great Lakes

As federal budget appropriators begin to consider funding for fiscal year 2018, groups around Minnesota are calling on federal public officials to restore $300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiation and invest in other Great Lakes regional programs.

More than 150 organizations in the eight-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York signed on to letter by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition to restore funding.

Although President Trump's budget zeroed out the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Congress has the power to see the funding restored to $300 million.

"The strong showing of support behind this letter shows just how widely popular and truly non-partisan Great Lakes restoration issues are," said Steve Morse, Executive Director, Minnesota Environmental Partnership. "We rely on the Great Lakes for our drinking water, our jobs, and our way of life. Investments in the Great Lakes region are showing progress, but we have more work left to do before the job is done. We're counting on members of Congress to recognize the importance of these Great Lakes programs to Minnesota and act to restore funding."

The letter comes days after 63 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed on to a letter, urging Congress to ignore proposed cuts by the Trump Administration and restore full funding of $300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up toxic pollution, fight invasive species like Asian carp, restore fish and wildlife habitat and reduce runoff pollution that causes harmful algal blooms.

From Minnesota, U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, and Collin Peterson signed on to the letter. Rep. Betty McCollum is a member of the House Appropriations Committee on Interior and the Environment and one of the two recipients of the congressional letter. It is a frequent practice for Appropriations Committee members to not add their names to funding requests, especially letters addressed to themselves.

"We're glad to see our federal officials fight to keep federal Great Lakes restoration efforts on track," said Deanna White, State Director of Clean Water Action of Minnesota. "Federal restoration investments are paying off for the people of Minnesota, and we don't want to stop until the job is done."

The letter to appropriators references the success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program started by former President George W. Bush and funded by former President Barack Obama. From 2010 through 2016 $100 million has been invested in Minnesota to fund 155 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative related projects.

The letter also requests that funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds be doubled to $4.6 billion in total. These two programs provide communities with low-interest loans, helping them afford costly, but incredibly important drinking water and wastewater infrastructure investments.

The letter details other priorities, including protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp and polluted runoff, and encouraging investment in conservation programs and federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"These programs are investments made by the federal government that help leverage state government and private funding, helping to strengthen Minnesota's economy," said Morse. "These Great Lakes programs like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are good for our region, our jobs, and our way of life. Cutting funding now will only make problems harder to solve and more expensive the longer we wait."

(The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors)