TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal programs designed to make headway on some of the Great Lakes' most longstanding ecological problems, from harbors caked with toxic sludge to the threat of an Asian carp attack, would lose about 80 percent of their funding under a spending plan approved Tuesday by a Republican-controlled U.S. House panel.
The measure would hammer the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has enjoyed bipartisan support since President Barack Obama established it in 2009, based on a priority list endorsed four years earlier by President George W. Bush. Also targeted for a drastic reduction is a low-interest loan fund that helps local governments upgrade aging sewage treatment systems.
The rollbacks are part of a broader spending bill that would implement the second year of "sequestration" cuts required after Congress failed to agree on a budget. The House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee sent the measure to the full Appropriations Committee.
It's one of 12 bills under consideration to fund day-to-day operations of government agencies. It could be revised substantially during negotiations this fall and likely would face a veto threat from Obama even if it cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Still, the proposed reduction is by far the deepest yet sought for the restoration initiative, and groups that have championed the program said they were alarmed.
"Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Even during a time of belt tightening, he said, "what's mystifying to me is these programs seem to be singled out for disproportionate treatment."
After an initial $475 million in 2009, the restoration initiative has gotten about $300 million a year, although this year's total has fallen to $285 million because of across-the-board cuts. The subcommittee bill would slash the 2014 allocation to just $60 million.