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Roskam calls proposed cuts to Great Lakes project ‘a serious error’

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., talks on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 8, 2017. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s budget unveiling, Rep. Peter Roskam has sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the administration’s proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — calling the cuts “completely unacceptable and a serious error in the allocation of resources.”

It’s a good move politically for Roskam, who is being targeted by Democrats as a vulnerable Republican in a district that favored Hillary Clinton for president. Roskam’s vote for the GOP House health care bill, Democrats say, highlighted the reality that he is a top target in his 6th Congressional District seat, anchored in the western suburbs.

Roskam’s May 19 letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt calls the Great Lakes “truly a national treasure,” and notes that more than a century of environmental damage has taken a big toll on the Great Lakes, which the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is trying to correct.

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“I am writing to follow up on our conversation regarding the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This is completely unacceptable and a serious error in the allocation of resources,” Roskam writes.

Roskam’s office says he has been pushing against the “draconian cuts” both publicly and privately since March. He first signed a letter to the Appropriations Committee in March expressing his concern and also met with Pruitt specifically about the Great Lakes earlier this month.

Trump in March proposed cutting funding to the EPA by 30 percent. The budget outline increased spending for defense while paying for it with cuts to environmental protection, health and human services, foreign aid and education. The White House is scheduled to unveil its full budget on Tuesday.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The plan was to have federal agencies use initiative resources to target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate work towards long-term goals. The work includes cleaning up the lakes, preventing and controlling invasive species, reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms and restoring habitat to protect native species.

Roskam is asking the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to provide $300 million for the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill and for Pruitt to do the same.

Roskam warns that “halting” the initiative “would reverse years of progress, dramatically reduce the GLRI’s impact and jeopardize the environmental and economic health of the region.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in March, alongside other mayors, spoke out about the proposal to reduce annual funding from “north of $300 million” to $10 million — saying it would mean a return to his childhood swims in Lake Michigan, during which he had to “dive under the dead fish.”

Letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt from U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam by jroneill on Scribd