By: Kady McFadden, Deputy Chapter Director
Growing up in Illinois, summers always meant family trips outdoors in Wisconsin and Michigan. I spent many 4th of July weekends camping at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Every summer even through college, I went on a father-daughter canoe trip in Wisconsin with a number of my friends and their dads. Lake Michigan is what makes Chicago summers so incredible – I trained for my first marathon along morning sunrises on the lakeshore path. Carved by glaciers 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes ecosystem is our Yellowstone of the midwest. It is the most important natural asset of our region, and it’s where I learned how to swim, paddle, pitch a tent, and make a campfire.
The Great Lakes are not only the gem of our region, but the area is home to a $5 trillion regional economy and 20% of the world’s freshwater. Protecting the Great Lakes has long been a bipartisan priority. Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has contributed $300M annually to support economic development driven by environmental restoration. The GLRI is a proven critical and successful effort to support cleanup projects, habitat restoration, invasive species control, and nutrient runoff reduction in the Great Lakes and surrounding states.
Me and my dad camping in WI, circa 1995
President Trump has decided to abandon this track record of success in protecting our region. Despite the fact that over 40 million people get their drinking water from these lakes, his proposed 2018 budget eliminates the GLRI. Additionally, the President is calling for a 31% overall reduction in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The effects of eliminating this program are twofold: jobs will be lost and the Lakes will suffer. The environmental effects of cutting the GLRI would be diverse and wide-reaching, allowing toxic algae blooms in sources of drinking water, leaving our waterways vulnerable to invasive species like Asian carp, and creating irreversible habitat fragmentation on beaches and parks. On the economic front, cutting the GLRI would eliminate the possibility of $50 billion long-term economic benefits the program is slated to bring the Great Lakes region as a whole, and put folks out of work in the short-term.
Starting today, I’ll be riding my bike around Lake Michigan and visiting some sites of successful GLRI projects along the way. I’ll be completely human powered, with all supplies and gear strapped to my bicycle. I hope you’ll follow along, and join Sierra Club’s efforts to fight to protect the Great Lakes.
Like many of you, I was deeply shaken by the results of the 2016 election. As a young woman with a deep belief in democracy and our individual and collective ability to make a difference in the world, I was rocked by the direction our country might be headed. Before November 8th, I planned to spend the next four years fighting for continued progress making our planet and communities even more safe and vibrant. Rather, I find that I spend many days fighting battles that I thought we already won: that everyone deserves clean water, that women deserve respect and should make choices for themselves, and that no American is illegal.
In these times, we must encircle and protect the things we value most. We have no choice but to fight to defend against threats to our undocumented brothers and sisters, to working families ability to earn a living wage, to and to our most basic right to safe drinking water and a healthy planet.
Protecting our environment and communities is not a partisan value. That’s why I am hopeful that our Great Lakes Republican members of Congress will stand up for the GLRI and against budget cuts to EPA. I hopeful that they can follow the lead of my hometown state Representative Steve Andersson (R), who on Friday worked so hard to reach across the aisle to help pass a budget for our state. Wearing a purple tie for bipartisanship, he said “we are going to save our state, and we’re going to save our state together.”
We are going to save our Great Lakes. And we’re going to save our Great Lakes together. I hope you’ll join us.
Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes: teamsierra.org/illinois/kady
Sign the petition here: Save The Great Lakes