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Biden touts $1 billion in funding for Great Lakes restoration, during trip to Ohio

President Biden speaks the about the cleanup of the Great Lakes region Thursday during an appearance in Lorain, Ohio. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Biden visited Ohio on Thursday to tout $1 billion in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year that will be used to clean and restore environmentally degraded sites around the Great Lakes, a major source of drinking water in the region.

The trip to Lorain, Ohio, was the latest attempt by Biden to highlight the benefits of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law ahead of this year’s midterm elections, in which Democrats risk losing control of Congress. Several of Biden’s other major legislative initiatives remain stalled in Washington.

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During a speech in Lorain, which borders Lake Erie, Biden said the funding will accelerate an effort to restore sites known as “areas of concern” in the region that have been polluted by agriculture and manufacturing. The funding bolsters an effort, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, that was launched in 2010.

“It’s going to allow the most significant restoration of the Great Lakes in the history of the Great Lakes,” Biden told a crowd of about 60 guests, including members of Congress, local elected officials and labor leaders.

Biden said the additional funding would flow to sites in six states making the water safer for swimming and fishing, drinking, providing habitats for wildlife and wildfowl.” He said the Great Lakes provide drinking water for about 40 million people.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, who accompanied Biden on the trip, told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the infusion of new funding would be “a shot in the arm” for his agency’s cleanup efforts.

Of 25 sites that remain in need of restoration, the funding would allow the cleanup of 22 of them by 2030, Regan said.

“For many areas throughout the Great Lakes region, including right here in Lorain, the dawn of industrialization left in its wake a disastrous legacy of pollution,” Regan later said at the event. “Many of these former industrial sites have been abandoned and blighted for years, and the neighborhoods surrounding these areas and the people who live in them were also left behind.”

While Democrats are looking for accomplishments to tout ahead of the November elections, the new funding also drew praise from retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was heavily involved in negotiating the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year.

In a statement, Portman noted that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to date has provided nearly $3 billion for restoration projects throughout the Great Lakes Basin to address “algal blooms, invasive species, pollution, and habitat degradation.”

“Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, this additional $1 billion … will go a long way in strengthening our Great Lakes preservation and restoration efforts,” Portman said.