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EDITORIAL: Great Lakes agenda needs support in Washington

In this May 31, 2002 file photo, the sun sets over the Mackinac Bridge and the Mackinac Straits as seen from Lake Huron. The bridge is the dividing line between Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File) ORG XMIT: CER204

Supporters of the Great Lakes who will gather in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday have a big job. The lakes are facing serious environmental problems, and the Trump administration seems intent on ignoring them.

Clean, accessible drinking water and healthy lakes should be a unifying value, but that message doesn’t seem to be getting through.

Here’s what should be at the top of the agenda for those who want to protect the lakes.

EDITORIAL

  • The Trump administration has proposed cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative annual budget from $300 million to $30 million. The GLRI is designed to reverse decades of environmental damage by fixing the worst problems. To pull back now would be foolish.
  • The Upper Midwest has some of the oldest water infrastructure in the country and needs an estimated $179 billion to repair drinking water and wastewater systems. The Trump administration is offering vague ideas about turning to private investment to this, which would be inadequate. Instead, the federal government should partner with the states to repair and modernize these systems. We don’t want a replay of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
  • A 65-year-old mussel-encrusted Enbridge pipeline that runs along the floor of the Straits of Mackinac at the northern tip of Lake Michigan has 4.5 miles of mostly exposed pipeline that environmentalists worry could lead to costly leaks. Environmentalists should push Washington to help find a solution.
  • An eight-state law designed to protect Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes could be in peril as Wisconsin pushes to speed construction of the proposed Foxconn complex. The law is designed to keep hazardous pollutants out of the lakes and prevent water from being diverted out of the lakes. It needs to be protected.
  • The capabilities and funding for the Chicago-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 need any support state and local officials can muster as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to pursue an anti-regulation agenda.

Making sure that voices of the Great Lakes region are heard in Washington is an important step toward addressing these problems.