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Trump should not ignore the Great Lakes

Feb 13, 2018

Credit National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

There are a lot of baffling things about President Trump, but perhaps the most baffling is this: Usually, when you win a close election, you do everything you can to hang on to those voters who gave you victory.

Trump won the last election by a tiny margin, and he won it in the Great Lakes states, flipping Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The vote in every one of those states except Ohio was very close. Had Trump lost the first three, or any two of the others plus Ohio, he wouldn’t be President today.

Voters in those states differ widely, of course, but most of them do have one thing in common: They love the Great Lakes. They recognize what an important asset they are for fishing, boating and recreation, not to speak of as a tourist attraction.

You also don’t have to be a radical environmentalist to recognize that they are the most important source of fresh water in this hemisphere, and that if they were to be destroyed or seriously damaged, our economy and society would never recover.

That’s why so many normally conservative congressmen are worried about the Asian carp threat, and that’s why so many of us are really uneasy about the 64-year-old pipeline carrying oil under the Straits of Mackinac.

But Donald Trump couldn’t care less about the Great Lakes.

Last year, his initial budget called for almost completely zeroing out funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a series of programs that, among other things, helps keep the lakes clean, restores damaged natural habitats, and fights invasive species.

Congress balked, and in the end, $298 million for Great Lakes restoration was restored. That was significantly less than the $353 million in President Obama’s last budget, but a lot more than nothing. You might think the Trump administration would have learned its lesson, but no.

This year, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for the Great Lakes restoration initiative to $30 million dollars. It seems, from this budget, more painfully clear than ever that this president has nothing but contempt for the environment.

He also wants to completely end all funding for most other water restoration programs in the country, from San Francisco Bay to South Florida. Besides the potential for damaging the environment, these policies present an immense political problem for Republican congressmen who have to run for reelection this year.

Rep. Mike Bishop, a two-term congressman from Rochester Hills, has been a loyal Trump soldier, but for him, this is too much.

“The failure to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative … is a serious disappointment,” Bishop said, vowing to “work closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore this critical funding.

Other Republicans were even more scathing.

“Michigan deserves better than this,” said Congressman Fred Upton. “It’s clear that when it comes to the Great Lakes, our priorities are at odds with the administration.”

This is an administration, however, that Upton and Bishop and their other GOP colleagues are going to have to otherwise try to defend during this fall’s campaign.

My guess is that lots of people will be intensely interested in how they manage to do that.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.