For years, the Trump administration wanted to slash its funding. Now it’s boasting about pouring millions of dollars into it.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday rolled out a five-year plan for funding a popular program for restoring the Great Lakes, even though in the not-so-distant past the Trump administration tried to ax the environmental initiative almost entirely.
The turnabout comes as President Trump faces a tough reelection race that will require him to win several Midwestern states along the Great Lakes shoreline if he is to retain the White House in 2020.
EPA chief Andrew Wheeler toured one of those states, Michigan, this week to tout the EPA program, which will dole out grants to nonprofit groups, local governments and other federal agencies to shrink toxic algae blooms, restore wetland habitat and prevent invasive Asian carp in the Mississippi River system from entering Lake Michigan.
“I believe I am the only EPA administrator who’s ever gone swimming in the Great Lakes,” Wheeler said Tuesday during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club in Michigan, where $11 million in Great Lakes funding is being granted. “The Great Lakes are a national treasure.”
But the Trump administration is trumpeting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative only after the White House asked Congress to cut its funding by as much as 90 percent in a series of its annual budget requests.
“Sadly, Administrator Wheeler is trying to mask the Trump Administration’s terrible environmental record,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said in a statement. “It takes a lot of nerve to fly into Michigan and celebrate Great Lakes programs that the Trump Administration previously tried to eliminate.”
Trump had succumb to pressure from the region's congressional Republicans, who flooded the White House with letters asking for Trump to reverse course on the funding cut proposals and, according to the Detroit News, pressed the president during a March visit to Michigan announce the change during a rally in Grand Rapids, which was the last stop of his 2016 campaign.
Trump took them up on their advice, saying during the rally he wanted to fully fund the program shortly, even though his latest budget proposal had called for cutting funding from $300 million to $30 million.
“I support the Great Lakes. Always have," he said. "They’re beautiful. They’re big. Very deep. Record deep,” he said.
Trump's path to reelection cuts directly through the Great Lakes region, where he will have to win a number of states to have a chance of keeping his job. In 2016, he won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by only very narrow margins — less than 80,000 votes altogether.
Even with the funding, the Trump administration's effort to roll back pollution rules will undermine the progress made in cleaning up the lakes since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, according to Jordan Lubetkin, a regional spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation.
"We support all the priorities of the plan," Lubetkin said. But he added: "It's really incompatible to say you are for the Great Lakes when you are trying to gut clean-water protections."
One of the major rollbacks, finalized last month, expands which wetlands and tributaries qualify as “waters of the United States” regulated under the Clean Water Act. Farmers, ranchers and homebuilders vigorously fought the Barack Obama-era definition giving the EPA much broader authority over curbing pollution in the nation’s smaller waterways, even though almost all of them ultimately flow into large bodies of water like the Great Lakes.
— Industry dominates Trump’s council of science advisers: Revived after nearly two years, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is dominated by industry veterans, as it was under the George W. Bush administration, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports.
- Who's on it: The newly announced members include officials from IBM Research, Dow Chemical and Bank of America. "Only one of Trump’s seven new PCAST members works in academia," Guarino writes. "Two members do not have doctoral degrees."
- What it does: "PCAST’s members investigate the country’s pressing scientific questions at the president’s direction. Typically, academic members of a PCAST outnumber its industry scientists. This was true for the councils under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama."
— Trump administration looks to weaken protections for a threatened California fish: The administration has moved to weaken protections for the delta smelt, a tiny fish that has been at the center of battles over the state’s water for almost 30 years, the New York Times reports.
- Closer look: The change would “would allow large amounts of water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to irrigate arid farmland and could harm the region’s fragile ecosystem.” It’s a plan that would be a boon for wealthy farmers in the state who have lobbied for such a change. “While the delta smelt serves no commercial purpose, decisions impacting its habitat extend directly to the interests competing for California’s water: farmers, fishermen and environmentalists,” the Times adds.
- Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s involvement scrutinized: Federal investigators are also probing whether the interior secretary’s efforts to ease the delta smelt’s protections “violated ‘revolving-door’ “rules designed to prevent former lobbyists from helping past clients from within the government.”
— Possible ties between a Ukrainian gas tycoon and Giuliani associates: Prosecutors in Chicago pursuing a case against a Ukrainian gas tycoon flagged a possible connection between the tycoon and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The pair had already been on the prosecutors’ radar when they were arrested earlier this month.
- The connection: “Parnas had been working as an interpreter for the lawyers of the tycoon, Dmytro Firtash, since late July," The Post’s Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey report. "Chicago prosecutors suspect there might be a broader relationship among Firtash, Parnas and Fruman, the people familiar with the matter said,” they write.
- Why this matters: “The new focus on possible ties among the three men comes as the Ukrainian energy mogul has appeared to align himself with Trump and the president’s allies as he fights extradition to the United States." Parnas and Fruman were helping Giuliani in the search for damaging information about Democrats in the country, an effort at the center of the impeachment inquiry. And now, the Ukrainian energy magnate is “facing questions about whether he has played a shadow role in that effort.”
— The coal baron is back (again): The convicted former coal baron Don Blankenship is running again, this time for the highest office in the nation. In 2018, he finished third in the Republican primary in a bid for Sen. Joe Manchin III’s (D-W.Va.) seat. Now, he’s looking for the Constitution Party’s presidential nomination, the Associated Press reports. “West Virginia Constitution Party chairman Jeffrey-Frank Jarrell says Blankenship made the announcement Saturday during the party's national committee meeting in Pittsburgh,” per the AP.
— Western senators introduce resolution to conserve U.S. land, ocean: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, teamed up with Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) to introduce a Senate resolution aiming to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. land and ocean by 2030. The resolution is co-sponsored by seven Democratic senators, including Democratic presidential contenders Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
— Turning ocean water into fresh water: In Saudi Arabia, one of the most water-starved nations, desalinated seawater makes up about half of its fresh water supply. Desalinating seawater is a growing solution to water scarcity or issues with water quality, especially as populations increase and global warming-induced droughts worsen the problem, the New York Times reports.
- But there's a cost problem: “Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are at the center of this growth, with large new desalination projects planned or being built,” the Times reports. But desalination is expensive and energy intensive, fueling questions about whether it can be more affordable and accessible, especially to expand into low-income countries.”
— PG&E warns of more blackouts: The company said it may cut power to prevent wildfires again in Northern California this week. The preemptive outages could affect more than 200,000 customers as the fire risk rises in the region “thanks to northeasterly winds and plummeting humidity beginning late Wednesday and extending until early Friday,” The Post’s Matthew Cappucci reports. “Ahead of the dangerous forecast, utility provider PG&E has advised 209,000 customers of a potential ‘public safety power shutoff’ planned in northern California depending on how the forecast evolves.”
— California gas company won’t go gently into the night: The early push to phase out natural gas in California is facing resistance from the powerful Southern California Gas. Co. The company, “which serves nearly 22 million people from the Central Valley to the U.S.-Mexico border, is determined to prevent a future without gas from coming to pass, even if it may not arrive for years or decades,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The utility has begun a sweeping campaign to preserve the role of its pipelines in powering society — an outcome critics say would undermine California’s efforts to fight climate change.” Coal is the next environmental battle in a state that has already nearly eliminated coal and has seen solar and wind power boom, and become more affordable.”
- The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties holds a hearing on “Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change.”
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on the Pebble Mine Project.
— A young conservative on a mission: Benjamin Backer, the 21-year-old president of the American Conservation Coalition, founded the conservative environmentalist nonprofit to help push the Republican party to act on climate change.
Meet Benjamin Backer, the young conservative trying to make Republicans care about climate change: