Walker, Trump at odds over defunding of Great Lakes program

By Scott Bauer 
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — President Donald Trump and his close Republican ally Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are at odds over Trump’s budget proposal calling for elimination of federal funding to help preserve the Great Lakes.

Walker joined with other Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats on Thursday in opposing Trump’s call for eliminating federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program that addresses the lakes’ most pressing environmental threats.

Walker told The Associated Press that he would work with House and Senate leaders and talk with the Trump administration about restoring the funding. A bipartisan group of 47 members of Congress, including everyone from Wisconsin except House Speaker Paul Ryan, sent Trump a letter last month urging him to protect the $300 million-a-year program.

“It makes sense for us to continue to make prudent investments in protecting and improving the Great Lakes,” Walker said in an interview. “It’s one of those where it’s a combination of quality of life, certainly in terms of access to the greatest fresh water supply in the world but also it’s an economic impact. Commercial fishing, tourism, so many of those things tie in to a healthy and vibrant Great Lakes system.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, whose northeastern Wisconsin district borders Lake Michigan, called Trump’s budget proposal “ill-advised” and said there is a “moral obligation to pass on clean water to future generations so that they too can come to know and appreciate these natural treasures.” Walker sidestepped a question about whether he was optimistic the funding would be restored, saying it’s always easier to keep something in a budget than to have it changed.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Democrat, said he was optimistic that bipartisan support for the funding would result in it being restored.

The program Trump wants to kill has pumped more than $2.2 billion into the eight-state region for projects that have removed toxic waste from industrial harbors, fought invasive species such as Asian carp, restored wildlife habitat and supported efforts to prevent harmful algal blooms.

Congress voted last year to authorize the program for five more years. And a Trump campaign representative said last fall the Republican nominee supported the program.

Wisconsin has received $331 million for 416 projects, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a letter to Walker asking him how the state would plan to make up for the loss in federal funds.

In Milwaukee, the program has funded a four-year, $43 million cleanup effort along the Milwaukee River and a $1.4 million investment in waterway improvements, Abele’s office said.

Abele told the AP he “strongly opposed” the cut.

“Not just because there’s an impact on tourism and a potential public health impact of less available, reliably clean fresh water,” Abele said. “But just as a human being, the Great Lakes are a spectacular and rare national treasure. The day we start seeing preservation of the environment as somehow naive or idealistic is the day we forget this country has an incredible history of preserving and setting aside big chunks of our environment.”

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