Editorial: Lawmakers should back funding

6:42 PM, Mar. 5, 2013  |  Comments
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Great Lakes Days begin today in Washington, D.C., as a contingent from Wisconsin and other lake states arrive to push for continued funding.

At stake is $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

We've supported funding the restoration funding in the past and continue to do so.

The health of the Great Lakes should be a national priority. Its importance cannot be overstated, though we'll try:

? The Great Lakes provides drinking water to 30 million people over eight states.

? More than 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages are connected to the lakes, the University of Michigan reported.

? Every $1 of restoration investment yields $2 in economic benefit, according to the Brookings Institution.

? Over 37 million people boat, fish, hunt and view wildlife - a $50 billion impact, according to the Great Lakes Commission.

? Recreational boaters spend billions of dollars on boats, goods, services, supporting 60,000 jobs that pay $1.77 billion in personal income, the Great Lakes Information Network reported.

The Great Lakes have a huge impact on an eight-state region, as well as Canada, and they deserve the federal funding that would keep them viable for shipping, recreation, drinking water, wildlife and the environment.

Halting the funding of the restoration efforts won't save us money. It means addressing the toxic sediments, sewage, invasive species, runoff and habitat destruction that threaten our lakes will be done at a later date, when the situation is worse and the cure costlier.

"These (problems) are not going to fix themselves," said Jordan Lubetkin of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center. "If we don't do it now the cost is only going to go up."

It's important that the Great Lakes delegation in Congress is unified in its support, Lubetkin said.

We agree. The Wisconsin delegation in Congress needs to commit to funding for the Great Lakes. A unified front sends a message to lawmakers outside the region that you believe this should be a national priority in the budget for this year as well as next.

If our own lawmakers don't support restoration efforts and continued funding, why should someone from outside of the region support it?

Currently, the $300 million in funding for 2013 is set to be reduced by $25 million under the across-the-board cuts of the sequestration.

That represents an 8 percent decrease. But if that doesn't sound like much, consider that Brown County has received $1.5 million for the Cat Island Restoration Project, $2 million for Renard Isle capping, $377,000 for a Baird Creek project. Those are tiny percentages of the $300 million total, but they are vitally important for the Green Bay area.

As the federal government's fiscal crisis of the month careens from the fiscal cliff to sequestration to a possible government shutdown, lawmakers need to focus on ongoing projects and funding that have an economic as well as environmental impact.

We hope Wisconsin's congressional delegation listens to the message of those at the Great Lakes Days today and tomorrow. The health of the Great Lakes should be one thing they all can agree on.

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