This week, the House Appropriations Committee is looking at various draft budget bills for Fiscal Year 2023, including the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies funding bill, which is proposing robust funding increases for the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bill contains $368 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, $20 million above current funding levels. The funding bill also contains $2.88 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which help communities pay for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects, respectively. Funding for the two SRF programs represent about an $118 million increase over current budget levels.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is pleased to see increases for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the State Revolving Funds (SRFs), as these programs are at the heart of cleaning up the Great Lakes region and providing safe, clean drinking water for all.

Though increases are something to celebrate, unfortunately, the GLRI and SRFs were not funded at fully authorized levels: $400 million for the GLRI and $2.75 billion for each SRF program ($5.5 billion total authorization). The failure to budget for the full authorized amount – essentially leaving money on the table – is concerning, as there remains much work to do to tackle serious threats in the region, including toxic pollution, degraded fish and wildlife habitat, invasive species, and farm and city runoff pollution. The longer it takes for these problems to be solved, the worse and more expensive they will get.

The backlog of infrastructure work is well-known. The eight-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin needs more than $188 billion over 20 years to fix, repair, and update its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The Coalition heralded last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law as a game-changer not only for the sizeable investment it was making now – but also because the law was dramatically increasing the amount the U.S. Congress could invest every year during the annual appropriations process. The failure to follow through is a missed opportunity.

Of note, full authorization of the GLRI has bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just in late spring, a bipartisan group of 47 members of the House sent a letter to subcommittee chairs advocating for such, recognizing the importance of the program and its positive impact on the environmental and economic health of the region.

Approved by the subcommittee, the draft funding bill is now going to full markup in the House Appropriations Committee, and we hope to see the funding numbers go up to their fully authorized amounts.