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As the Nation Marks the 48th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Higgins Leads Effort to Protect Its Progress

Oct 23, 2020
Press Release
Great Lakes Task Force Members Press to Safeguard the Fresh Water System Which is Vital to the Environment & Economy

This week, as the United States marks the 48th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) and colleagues on the Great Lakes Task Force warned the progress made to restore and protect the Great Lakes is at risk of unravelling. 

In the letter encouraging continued investments and highlighting the threats posed by recent environmental rollbacks, the Great Lakes Task Force Members write: “The Great Lakes contain 84% of North America’s fresh water, see 200 million tons of cargo per year, and are home to over 30 million people in their basin. Efforts like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement have made significant strides to revitalize the Great Lakes, reverse decades of industrial pollution, and create action plans to continue to on this course. However, the Trump Administration’s rollbacks to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, efforts to dismantle the Clean Water Act, and consistent attacks on the environment present an imminent threat that requires Congressional attention.”

Congressmembers Ron Kind (WI-3), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Bill Foster (IL-11) and Andy Levin (MI-9) joined Congressman Higgins on the letter which also noted how the Trump Administration’s repeal of several Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) rules jeopardize the health and vitality of the Great Lakes as well as the economies of communities on their shores.

In addition to rolling back environmental protections, President Trump has repeatedly proposed massive cuts or complete elimination of federal Great Lakes funding. The President proposed to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in his 2018 budget and cut GLRI by 90% in 2019 & 2020.  In each instance Congress stepped up to restore the funding.

A study shows that for every federal dollar invested through the GLRI, Great Lakes regions see on average $3.35 dollars of economic return.  In Buffalo the impact is even greater - yielding $4 in additional economic activity for each dollar invested in Great Lakes cleanup.

In 1968, the Buffalo River caught fire due to contamination from heavy industrial development. The River was “devoid of oxygen and almost sterile,” coated with a thick oil film from industrial waste, combined sewer overflow outfalls, and garbage. Environmental atrocities like this in Western New York and across the nation inspired a grassroots push for change which led to the first Earth Day in 1970. Subsequently, the Clean Water Act was signed into law by President Nixon on October 18, 1972 following decades of unchecked pollution.