It’s hard to imagine what these early-term days are like for President Joe Biden, everyone must seem to want something, now.
Fix the faults in the pandemic response, full speed ahead on combating climate change, mend fences with alienated allies and of course, show us the money.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan grabs the headlines but that’s just the start, and conservation advocates are in line asking for money for big regional restoration projects.
Great Lakes not-for-profits have been circulating their Biden wish lists and near the top is a continuation of funding for Great Lakes restoration, the G.W. Bush and Barack Obama plan to restore the lakes. It’s currently authorized at $2 billion over five years.
But in D.C. parlance, an “authorization” doesn’t guarantee the money. Congress has to approve it in the budget every year and a president solidly behind the program helps secure its continuance.
Since 2010, Great Lakes restoration has received approximately $3.5 billion. It was originally projected to be a $20 billion project when conceived during the G.W. Bush administration. Advocates constantly tout the success of the program and there has been some like cleaning up legacy toxic spots, even though it’s more like mitigating the harm v. cleaning them up.
But even that work is a decade or more from the finish. And there’s a case to be made that the $100 million plus spent on Lake Erie’s algae problems have yielded few results.
Advocates for the Everglades in Florida want $2.9 billion over four years. This is the 20th anniversary of Everglades restoration which was estimated to cost $7.8 billion. The new cost estimate is $16 billion, none of the original 68 projects have been completed and scientists have given the work mixed reviews according to WUSF Public Media.
Worth noting is Florida’s current proposed budget includes $473 million for the Everglades.
Great Lakes states don’t directly contribute to restoration funding though they may participate via cost share on specific projects. If a country, the region would have a $6 trillion economy making it the third largest in the world, also worth noting when someone comes asking for money.
One of these days the bill for the country’s burgeoning debt will come due, no matter which party is in power. The budget will be cut and projects will be trimmed if not chopped. It happened two years into Great Lakes restoration when funding was slashed by the Obama administration from $475 million to $300 million a year. It remained there until recently.
Perhaps now is the time for environmental advocates to take a look at how former California Gov. Jerry Brown governed.
Brown, a progressive Democrat, yet a fiscal conservative once said while vetoing a bill that “not every human problem deserves a law.”
I’d apply Brown’s logic to restoring the Great Lakes. Not every environmental harm can be fixed with money. Brown’s legacy is that of being one of the country’s most strident advocates for the environment.
Twitter at @garyglx5.
Chicago-based environmental journalist