Earlier this year, President Trump proposed a budget that would completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and drastically cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the entity responsible for protecting human health and the environment. We were appalled by this abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our health, our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.
Halting the incredible work of the men and women who are cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes would be a huge mistake today and have drastic implications for the future. Folks in Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Detroit and many more communities on the Great Lakes know the toll of dirty industry. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up and protect the land and water in the Great Lakes region keeps communities safe and restores property values. Work by the EPA to minimize or mitigate the impacts of pollution on our health and environment is critical.
We knew we needed to respond to this shocking proposal and show decision makers in D.C. that restoring the Great Lakes and protecting our health and environment are broadly supported, bipartisan priorities for people across our region. In March, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous proposed cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.
We knew we couldn’t be the only voices calling for the protection of resources that so many people depend on, and the incredibly rare source of freshwater we are fortunate to have in our region. Over the summer, our volunteers collected Great Lakes Protection Pledges online and at events throughout Illinois. By the end of the summer, over 15,000 people had signed the pledge, calling on their Members of Congress to:
- Support full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
- Oppose policy rollbacks that threaten to increase pollution of our Great Lakes; and
- Support increased investment in clean water infrastructure, to supply clean drinking water for all.
In September, we visited district offices in Illinois to ask our Representatives to be the voice of thousands of Great Lakes supporters and ensure that the new budget includes full funding for the Great Lakes, the EPA and needed water infrastructure projects. We visited ten offices, delivering our message and a list of all the people from each Congressional district that signed the Great Lakes Protection Pledge. Some of our champions even signed the pledge themselves, committing to vote for clean water and healthy Great Lakes (shout out to Representatives Foster, Lipinski, Schakowsky and Quigley!).
During the last week of September, a small team from Illinois traveled to DC to participate in the first “Defend Our Progress” Sierra Club Lobby Week with staff, volunteers and partners from across the country. One the final day of our trip, we delivered our boxes of pledge cards to Senators Durbin and Duckworth, asking them to continue to advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes supporters they represent.
As the budget process plays out in DC, we are glad to see full funding of the GLRI in the package of spending bills passed by the House. But the 10% cut to the EPA budget and the dangerous riders and cuts to other critical agencies and programs are unacceptable. We now look to the Senate to restore common sense by prioritizing our health and the protection of resources that our economy and communities depend on.
We are so grateful for all of the people who contributed to this effort. Thank you to every person who signed a pledge, collected pledges at a farmer’s market, festival or other event, participated in a meeting with your Member of Congress, amplified our message on social media or other outlets, and helped with databasing and other behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. We appreciate you, and the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, business or recreation will benefit from your efforts. Onward!