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Trump's Budget Eliminates Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Funding

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Susan Bence
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Milwaukee Public Radio
GLRI funded removal of 180,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Lincoln Creek in Milwaukee.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative came to life during the Obama Administration, but it's seed was planted during George W. Bush's tenure.  And, now President Trump's budget calls for defunding the program.

In 2004, President Bush signed an executive order that called for an interagency task force to promote regional collaboration to protect the Great Lakes.

"There were a lot of people saying there wasn't a good focus to what was going on in the Great Lakes.  In the federal level, I want to say the number was 160 different agencies and commissions having something to do with a Great Lakes but there wasn't any real coordination," says Todd Ambs.  

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Credit Susan Bence
Todd Ambs

He's campaign director with Healing Our Water-Great Lakes Coalition. But back in 2004, he headed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' water division. Ambs also helped put together the Great Lakes planning template.

"We had eight focus areas that the eight governors had identified at the time. They included things like habitat restoration and cleaning toxic hotspots. Each of these work groups had co-chairs." Ambs adds, "I was co-chair of the habitat workgroup along with Leon Carl, who is still with USGS in Michigan."

Over 2,000 people, representing hundreds of groups, helped formulate the plan over a year and a half. Ambs adds that it is reviewed and refined every five years. 

In 2009, President Obama attached funding to the plan and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI, was born.

"And we're at 3,500 projects around the basin and counting. $2.2 billion have been expended to date and the examples of successes are really impressive, from Duluth over to Buffalo, and of course many examples here in the Milwaukee area," Ambs says.

He says both the environment and economy have been enriched  by GLRI. "That's why there was such a strong initial reaction to this proposal out of the new administration."

"The Great Lakes region, if it was its own country, would be the third largest economy on the planet. To suggest that, that region is not one of the highest national priorities, I think is absurd..."

Ambs happened to be in Washington D.C. when President Trump released his budget. He was visiting members of Congress with other Great Lakes advocates.

"We heard immediately on our Great Lakes Day when we were up on the Hill, from members of Congress all across the board support for the restoration initiative." Ambs adds, "Gwen Moore, Shawn Duffy, Paul Ryan James Sensenbrenner,  Mark Pocan all saying 'We want to see the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continue.'"

Ambs hopes by telling the story of successful  restoration projects,  GLRI will remain intact.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.