USEPA gets a big bump but the Army Corps takes a hit; strong funding for a new Soo Lock. Great Lakes restoration, meh.
If a president’s budget signals priorities, we got a first look at President Joe Biden’s Great Lakes and environmental priorities last week when Biden released his first budget.
Jumping off the page are the 22% increase for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a 13% cut for the Army Corps of Engineers.
My quick take, staffing for the EPA had been declining well before President Donald Trump took office and bolstering the EPA was clearly not a priority for him. Trump’s budgets proposed big cuts for the agency but Congress didn’t allow the axe to fall. EPA plays a big role in Biden’s climate agenda and will need resources to make that agenda work, assuming it’s passed by Congress. Thus, the big increase.
The budget ding for the Army Corps is curious. Perhaps it’s related again to Biden’s overall climate agenda. More reliance on softer, sustainable solutions than constructing things that try to control nature, to oversimplify. Watch for this cut to get serious scrutiny from Congress where the Army Corps has a lot of friends, including on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Biden is proposing a $10 million increase to $340 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the most popular environmental project in the region. Lakes advocates had been lobbying for $375 million.
Honestly, the minimal $10 million increase looks more like a political contribution to Michigan which went for Biden in the election rather than someone doing an analysis and determining the program needs another $10 million. Since its inception, Great Lakes restoration has been the recipient of approximately $3 billion, no trifling amount.
While Republicans will wail against the overall cost of Biden’s budget, don’t be surprised if the advocates get the $375 million for restoration when Congress gets done with its slicing and dicing of the budget.
Plus, there’s this. In addition to doing some good work in the last 10 years, one advocate had the courage to point out that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has also become the region’s pork barrel. Politicians of both parties love holding those press conferences that demonstrate bringing money back home, needed or not.
A years-long bi-partisan effort to get a green light and funding for a new Soo Lock is a Biden budget winner securing $480 million. This one should sail (bad pun) through the process. The shipping industry is happy as is industry in general but especially steel and manufacturing in key Great Lakes cities.
The Army Corps Asian Carp project to build a choke point at a lock in Illinois that would inhibit the carp’s progress toward the Great Lakes limps along. Biden put a requisite $4.9 million in his budget for engineering and design work. The estimated cost of the lock modification is $770 million and if finally approved, the work will be complete in 2028 or so. That’ll be roughly 19 years after the need for a more permanent fix to stop the carp advance was identified. Advocates swear by this project, I’m not so sure anymore.
The Great Lakes budget projects are part of Biden’s overall budget which contains his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and climate initiatives.
They’re the main event and Biden wants it resolved this summer. You can watch your favorite news outlet probably on a daily basis to see how that’s going.
An important reminder, even-though the president proposes an annual budget, Congress controls the federal purse strings.
Chicago-based environmental journalist