Congressman Higgins Announces Great Lakes Investments Included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Will Expedite Cleanup of Buffalo River, Niagara River & Eighteen Mile Creek
A Combined $3.125 Billion Will be Invested in the Great Lakes over the Next 5 Years
Washington, DC, February 18, 2022
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) was joined by representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeepers, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment to highlight how significant federal investments in the Great Lakes will have a lasting impact on Western New York.
In an effort to clean up polluted areas in the Great Lakes region, the U.S. and Canada previously outlined Remedial Action Plans to address 43 “Areas of Concern” in both countries identified in the 1980s. This week the White House and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $1 billion in Great Lakes funding, provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Law, will expedite cleanup of “Areas of Concern” (AOC). This will allow 22 of the remaining 25 Areas of Concern, including the 4 AOCs in Western New York – Buffalo River, Niagara River, Eighteen Mile Creek and Rochester Embayment - to be delisted.
Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, said, “The importance and impact of this achievement, made possible thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, can’t be overstated. It was just a generation ago that the Buffalo River was so polluted with industrial waste that it caught on fire. Cleaning up and de-listing Great Lakes Areas of Concern, including the Buffalo River, Niagara River and Eighteen Mile Creek in Western New York, is an incredible accomplishment that will contribute to a healthier environment and economy for Great Lakes communities and the entire nation.”
“The Great Lakes are a vital economic engine and an irreplaceable environmental wonder, supplying drinking water for more than 40 million people, supporting more than 1.3 million jobs, and sustaining life for thousands of species,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “Through the investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we will make unprecedented progress in our efforts to restore and protect the waters and the communities of the Great Lakes basin, including in Western New York.”
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka said: “Long before three of Western New York's waterways succumbed to environmental degradation and were labeled as Areas of Concern (AOC), the Buffalo River, Niagara River and 18-Mile Creek were once healthy and thriving ecosystems. Our freshwater resources contributed to a booming economy in the early 20th Century, but were exploited, abused and abandoned when human activity polluted them beyond recognition. Demonstrated by the restoration success in the Buffalo River, our community has proven that investments in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the AOC program are the catalyst for change for these impaired waterways. Now, with this meaningful commitment from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, restoration and recovery can continue for WNY's most toxic hot spots. Our deepest gratitude to President Biden, Congress and the EPA for recognizing that the return on investment is in clean water and healthy communities.”
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos, said, “Thanks to President Biden, EPA Administrator Regan, and Congressman Higgins and the entire Great Lakes Congressional Delegation, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making generational investments to safeguard our natural resources and improve quality of life for our communities. BIL resources will sustain efforts underway to clean up historic contamination, protect communities from flooding and severe weather made worse by climate change, safeguard drinking water supplies for millions of New Yorkers and habitats for fish and wildlife, and create new opportunities for recreation on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Restoration of the Oswego River Area of Concern opened a wealth of economic and recreation opportunities in downtown Oswego, it’s happening here along the Buffalo River, and there’s more to come. New York is grateful to all of our partners for their ongoing commitment to cleaning up these waters to benefit all New Yorkers.”
“The historic investments being made through the bipartisan infrastructure law will allow us to finally clean up toxic pollution that has poisoned drinking water and threatened the health of our communities for decades,” said Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE). “This will help close the book on our legacy of toxic contamination in the Great Lakes, and provide generations to come with clean drinking water, job opportunities, and healthy communities. We are grateful to Congressman Higgins, the EPA, and President Biden for their leadership in making this historic achievement possible.”
In November Higgins wrote to EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore requesting a realistic timeline for delisting of the Buffalo River. The Regional Administrator responded detailing the remaining steps necessary to reach the goal, indicating “the delisting process for the Buffalo River AOC could start as early as FY 2025.”
Between 2010 and 2021, over $97 million in federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been invested in Western New York, contributing to 254 projects in Erie and Niagara Counties.
Great Lakes funding included in the Infrastructure Law, combined with a large boost in annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding authorized by Congress, will provide a record $3.125 billion in investments in and around the Great Lakes over the next 5 years.
A 2018 report found that every dollar invested in the Great Lakes produces at least $3.35 of additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region and in some communities, like Buffalo and Detroit, the rate of return is even higher producing more than $4 of additional economic activity for each dollar invested.