Lake Erie, Great Lakes Merit Full Funding

Apr 23, 2019

Have you ever wondered just how significant the Great Lakes are to Erie, western Pennsylvania and the United States as a whole? They make up the largest grouping of freshwater lakes and comprise approximately one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.

These lakes provide 30 million Americans with drinking water, support more than 1.5 million jobs, offer recreational opportunities that draw millions of tourists each year, and are home to thousands of plant and animal species. The Great Lakes are an American national treasure.

The states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and New York, and our very own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, know this on a personal level. We have an economic and cultural interest in making sure the Great Lakes are clean, safe and open for recreation and commerce.

Lake Erie, which gave its name to our beloved city of Erie, is a major part of our economy and identity. It is home to a substantial number of Pennsylvanians and the activities on our local beaches and in our local waters create thousands of jobs. Millions of Americans and foreign tourists visit Presque Isle State Park and the broader Erie region each year, and they bring their dollars with them to spend right here at local businesses.

Lake Erie is more than a source of revenue, however. It is the greatest of the Great Lakes and a source of pride for us. That is why I am a strong supporter of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a plan to correct a series of threats to the future viability of the Great Lakes so they can remain the lifeblood of so many American communities, including Erie.

The problems are significant but not insurmountable if we press on. Right now, numerous federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are doing great work to stem the negative impact of invasive species like the Asian carp, harmful algal blooms, loss of habitat for native species, pollution, beach closures and more.

The Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are committed to supporting those efforts and of which I am a member, is united behind the GLRI programs. I have led and signed on to numerous letters requesting that the House Committee on Appropriations fully fund them in this government funding cycle.

Congress appropriated $300 million for GLRI programs last year. President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request to Congress proposed significantly less for next year. The GLRI is an investment in the future of the Great Lakes region and should be funded to at least the same level as Fiscal Year 2019, if not more. We made that clear to the president, and he now agrees that full funding should be a priority. A cut to these programs threatens one of our nation’s most valuable natural resources and the future economic well-being of western Pennsylvania and the broader Great Lakes region.

Though not funded through GLRI money, another issue of critical importance to Erie County over the decades has been the erosion of the beaches at Presque Isle State Park and the constant need to replenish them with sand. Last November, the United States Army Corps of Engineers announced it would allocate $1.5 million for that project, which was a significant victory in our fight to restore our part of Lake Erie’s coastline and protect the state park for the enjoyment of future generations of Americans. I asked that President Trump help us get this done, and he granted that request.

I will continue to be a staunch advocate of Lake Erie and the GLRI. I will also continue to encourage the administration to recognize why the Great Lakes and the programs to protect and restore them are so important to us.

Lake Erie is part of who we are as western Pennsylvanians. The Great Lakes are part of our American identity. As a Pennsylvanian and an American, I’m proud to stand with those who are fighting to make the Great Lakes even greater.

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This piece, written by Congressman Kelly, originally appeared in the Erie Times News