Donald Trump is expected to unveil his first federal budget later this week, and it’s widely expected that the budget will include plans to slash government spending in a number of areas, specifically areas that involve federal agencies and programs that impose regulations on businesses. Chief among the agencies expecting to see tremendous budget cuts is the Environmental Protection Agency, long a target of so-called “small government” conservatives who don’t like that progressives in government use federal regulations to try and achieve what they see as insignificant goals like safe drinking water, clean air, and preventing the environment from deteriorating into a post-industrial wasteland that resembles something out of a cyberpunk novel.
The conservative argument is that these regulations, often imposed nondemocratically by regulatory bodies like the EPA, negatively impact businesses and therefore weaken the economy by making it harder for businesses to make profits. The progressive counter-argument is that profits won’t matter too much if the Great Lakes are on fire and the nation’s citizens are drinking cocktails of water, arsenic, and lead. Surely there’s a happy medium that could be reached via compromise between the two opposing views, but it seems as though Trump, Bannon, and company are doubling down on the deregulation gambit by, among other things, slashing the EPA’s budget.
One rumored casualty to the EPA’s funding expected in Trump’s budget proposal to come later this week is a 97 percent reduction to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to the Chicago Tribune, the $300 million yearly budget for this project has been vital not only to the environmental concerns of the Great Lakes region but has been a boon to the local economy. Donald Trump is expected to reduce funding for the program to a relatively insignificant $10 million. Experts fear this could have a devastating impact on the future of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a largely bipartisan effort that has poured over $2 billion in federal funds into the Great Lakes in the past eight years. Among other vital projects, the initiative has focused on controlling invasive Asian carp and cleaning up heavily polluted spots in the Great Lakes, a set of five lakes that hold over 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
During the 20th century, large sections of the Great Lakes experienced heavy environmental decline due to unsustainable industrial practices, awful sewage management, and paltry environmental rules. At one point, Lake Erie was even widely considered to be biologically dead, according to the Great Lakes Information Network, though this was a bit of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, the Great Lakes were in terrible shape, and both Republicans and Democrats came together over the past two decades to impose strict regulations and increase spending to fix the dire situation.
“In a 2004 executive order, President George W. Bush proclaimed the Great Lakes a ‘national treasure’ and helped create the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, which built a broad coalition of bipartisan support for more cleanup,” writes Peter Annin for the Chicago Tribune. “Riding Bush’s momentum, President Barack Obama launched the restoration initiative in 2009, budgeting $475 million in restoration funding that year. During the next seven years, its annual budget hovered around $300 million.”
This could come to a screeching halt if Donald Trump gets his way and passes his deregulation budget. This could upset the citizens of places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which sit on the edge of one or more of the Great Lakes. The over 85 million residents of these states gave Trump narrow victories in the 2016 election, pushing him past Hillary Clinton in Electoral College votes. Given the wide bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, many of those people might see the move as a major betrayal.
Donald Trump might not care one way or the other. According to CNN, a cornerstone of the Trump administration agenda is what his top advisor Steve Bannon describes as the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Philosophically, they see federal regulatory controls over things like the environment and education as anti-Constitutional and bad for business. It doesn’t really appear that they have any concern for arguments about why these regulations may be necessary. They have what some may describe as a stubborn commitment to the idea of deregulation. That could turn out to be bad for the Great Lakes, bad for the people of the Great Lakes region, and bad for the people of the United States. Time will tell if less extreme voices are able to prevail and ensure the continuation of needed funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in spite of Donald Trump’s budget goals.
[Featured Image by Pool/Getty Images]