The budget approved by Congress last month includes a boost for restoration projects on the Great Lakes and extra money to fight invasive carp.
The environmental spending was part of a larger $1.4 trillion budget package for the 2020 fiscal year signed by President Donald Trump in late December. While Trump had hoped to cut money from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, many came away with more money than they had in 2019.
The EPA received $9.06 billion, which is $208 million higher than its enacted funding in 2019 and $2.8 billion more than Trump’s first budget plan. Included in the EPA’s budget is $20 million in new spending for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a project launched in 2010 that works to improve water quality, help native fish and restore habitat.
In December, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources won a $1.75 million grant from the GLRI to continue cleaning up pollution in the St. Louis River. The DNR project already had about $6 million from the GLRI. Trump’s initial spending plan would have slashed $270 million from the GLRI’s $300 million annual budget, but he reversed himself at a March campaign rally in Michigan and pledged to maintain the program’s funding. The EPA has not yet decided how to use the new funding, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the top House budget writer for environmental agencies such as the EPA, called the spending plan “a complete rejection of the destructive budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.” McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District, chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is McCollum’s counterpart in the Republican-led Senate, said the environmental budget “is the product of good, bipartisan work, directing significant resources towards protecting our people, land, and water.”
Apart from the GLRI money, the federal budget agreement has $25 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove invasive carp from infested waters, plus $10.6 million for federal research on fighting the carp. Money in the budget will also pay for work by the Army Corps of Engineers on a lock and dam project in Illinois that is aimed at preventing invasive carp from entering Lake Michigan and spreading elsewhere.
The carp compete with native fish for food and are considered a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and sport fishing. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission says bighead and silver carp have spread north through the Mississippi River basin and are now within 47 miles of Lake Michigan.
In a December statement, Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the money to fight invasive carp “will help restore fisheries and save jobs in the fishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism industries from Arkansas to Minnesota.”
The environmental budget also includes $43 million for research on cleanup of per-and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) in water, which is more than triple the money for the effort in the 2019 budget. Minnesota’s attorney general sued 3M in 2010 alleging the Maplewood company released the chemicals into Minnesota drinking water. In 2018, the state settled with 3M for $890 million. The federal budget also has $1.7 million to fight Chronic Wasting Disease, a contagious illness affecting deer in Minnesota, and works to protect the monarch butterfly.
The environmental spending package was the first McCollum has led as chairwoman of the influential appropriations subcommittee, and she heralded the measure as a Democratic-led reversal of Trump administration policy on climate change and the Republican president’s budget-cutting proclivity.
McCollum did not win one of her top priorities, however: restarting a study on the effect copper-nickel mining could have on the Rainy River watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Twin Metals Minnesota recently submitted a plan to environmental regulators for a mine on the edge of the popular wilderness.
Congress did approve a measure that directs the State Department to research the effect copper mining in Superior National Forest could have on waters shared with Canada under a 1909 treaty. The BWCA flows into Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. A report is due to Congress by Feb. 18.