Scott Pruitt finally found an environmental program worth protecting

The environmental initiative enjoys support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt endorses the Great Lakes protection program. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt endorses the Great Lakes protection program. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Trump administration’s budget writers believe the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is not worth saving. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt seemed to have a different view of the program on Monday, however.

Pruitt, who has prioritized rolling back many Obama-era clean air and water programs, wrote in a letter accompanying a report on the program that he is “proud” of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, especially how it is fulfilling its mission “to restore the health of the water that so many of our communities depend on.”

The EPA serves as leader of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, and Pruitt serves as its chairman. The agency is required by a 2010 law to submit this report to Congress on behalf of the task force; the report submitted to Congress on Monday covers the program’s work through fiscal year 2016.

“Thanks to resounding bipartisan support, 11 federal departments and their partners from states, tribes, municipalities, businesses, citizens’ organizations, academia and others are breaking through to restore the Great Lakes,” Pruitt wrote. “These GLRI investments — approximately $2.3 billion supporting more than 3,500 projects — are making a tremendous difference from Isle Royale National Park to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and points in between.”

Among the accomplishments listed by the EPA in the report are increasing property values and property tax bases by cleaning up 43 highly contaminated sites, and working with the agricultural community to reduce nutrient runoff to sensitive waterways.

CREDIT: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
CREDIT: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposed eliminating federal support for all watershed programs, including the Great Lakes program, which is by far the largest at about $300 million in annual federal funds. The House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2018 funding bill, however, restored full funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Pruitt said he supports continued federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. “I understand the investment that’s been made historically,” Pruitt told the newspaper last month. “It’s a continuing need, and we have to see that it’s adequately funded.”

In the report submitted to Congress, Pruitt emphasized that the Great Lakes program “is protecting public health in the Great Lakes more than any other coordinated interagency effort in U.S. history, and helping to ensure that our children and their children live in safer, healthier communities.”

The administration’s call to eliminate the program has drawn strong criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Midwest wrote a letter to House appropriations committee leaders, explaining that the program “is showing real and measurable results, but there is still a great deal of work to do.”