Turning the Tide on National Environmental Policy

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

The tide has turned. Within hours of taking the oath of office on January 20, President Joe Biden set a new course for national environmental policy. The United States will rejoin the Paris climate accord, undo rollbacks to environmental standards imposed by the former President, expand national monuments on federal land, and more.

But what does the change in administrations mean for the Great Lakes? Although President Biden has not set forth any particular Great Lakes policy, it’s not difficult to draw basic conclusions.

Federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is likely to continue at the current level of $300 million or higher. First funded by the Obama administration in 2009, the initiative has become a popular program with members of both parties in the Great Lakes region. To some extent, the funding is on autopilot. In his final weeks in office, former President Trump signed legislation that authorizes an increase to $475 million by 2026 — but Congress must still appropriate that funding.

One of the imperatives for the Great Lakes is increased funding for sewage and drinking water treatment. Michigan faces an estimated annual deficit of $900 million in these areas. Congress is likely to consider a major federal infrastructure bill this year. Significant federal funding for clean water will probably be part of that infrastructure. Michigan may need to match it with state funds to maximize the environmental and job creation benefits.

The Trump administration reversed the Clean Water rule promulgated by its predecessor. The rule provided protection for valuable wetlands and drinking water sources. Although it will take a year or two to accomplish, the Biden administration will likely restore the rule.

To some extent, it will be up to Michigan and other Great Lakes states to bring an agenda to the new President — from invasive species control to an attack on sources of toxic algae blooms fouling Lake Erie and other portions of the ecosystem.

It’s likely the Biden Administration will listen closely. A new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, an Energy Secretary who is also a former Governor of Michigan, and a climate action team all provide opportunities for Great Lakes citizens and officials to bring the needs of the world’s most magnificent aquatic ecosystem forward.

There is hope in the air, for our water.

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