Higgins Calls for Protection of Great Lakes

September 27, 2013 Updated Oct 13, 2011 at 5:20 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Higgins Calls for Protection of Great Lakes

September 27, 2013 Updated Oct 13, 2011 at 5:20 PM EDT

Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Calling the Great Lakes “one of America’s most overlooked and underappreciated assets” New York Congressman Brian Higgins is stressing the economic and environmental significance of the Great Lakes and calling for Great Lakes funding to be protected from cuts proposed by the Supercommittee. 

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds are currently supporting $4.6 million toward a $5.9 million project to restoration of the Buffalo River in Higgins’ district.

Below is the text of the letter Congressman Higgins sent to leaders of the Appropriation Committee:

Dear Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Dicks, Chairman Simpson and Ranking Member Moran:

As you ready recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, I write to urge you to protect funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

The Great Lakes are one of America’s most overlooked and underappreciated national assets.  They are the largest source of surface fresh water in the world, provide more than 30 million people in the region with drinking water, and boast a multi-billion boating, shipping, fishing, recreational and tourism economy.  The Great Lakes fishery alone generates $7 billion in economic activity and supports 75,000 direct jobs.

Yet, in order to provide safe drinking water and sustain these economic activities, the Great Lakes need to be healthy.  The Great Lakes face many challenges to that end, including contaminated sediment, agricultural runoff, sewer overflows, and invasive species.  Lake Erie in particular, which as the shallowest of the Lakes has greatest exposure to agriculture runoff and point source pollution, is exceptionally vulnerable to excess nutrients and phosphorus.  This pollution leads to toxic algal blooms that rob the water of oxygen that fish and other aquatic species need to survive, negatively impacting the associated fishing industry and limiting the recreational use of the waterways.  According to a recent report by the National Wildlife Federation, this past summer Lake Erie saw the most severe algal blooms since the 1960s.  Leaving these threats unaddressed will lead to the degradation of the Great Lakes ecosystem and threaten the progress we are making in Buffalo toward reclaiming our waterfront as an engine of recreational and economic activity.

The GLRI represents our nation’s recognition of the economic significance and environmental vulnerability of the Great Lakes.  Fully funding GLRI will not only restore and protect the ecological health of the Great Lakes, it will lead to long-term economic benefit. A Brookings Institution report shows that for every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration results in a $2 return in the form of increased fishing, tourism and home values.  Buffalo alone would see economic gains between $600 million to $1.1 billion if the Great Lakes are restored.  

I understand the challenge you are tasked with in making recommendations for spending cuts, but respectfully submit that for the reasons outlined above, the GLRI is a cost effective program that is worthy of America’s investment.  I urge you to encourage the Joint Committee to protect this essential economic and environmental investment in the Great Lakes.  Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. 

Sincerely,

Brian Higgins

Below are the remarks Congressman Higgins delivered on the House Floor:

“Mister Speaker, The Great Lakes are one of America’s most overlooked and underappreciated assets.  They are the largest source of surface fresh water in the world, provide more than 30 million people with drinking water, and host a multi-billion dollar boating, shipping, fishing, and recreation economy. 

“The Great Lakes fishery alone generates $7 billion in economic activity and directly supports 75,000 jobs.

“Yet the Lakes are threatened by toxic algae blooms fueled by agriculture runoff, sewer overflows and other pollution.  Lake Erie in particular, as the shallowest of the Lakes, is exceptionally vulnerable to excess nutrients and phosphorus. 

“According to a recent report by the National Wildlife Federation, this summer Lake Erie saw the most severe algal blooms since the 1960s. 

“Mr. Speaker the  Brookings Institution reports that every dollar invested in Great Lakes restoration results in a $2 dollar return in the form of increased fishing, tourism and home values. 

“This program is cost effective, and I urge Congress to reject cuts for Great Lakes restoration.”

Congressman Higgins’ Western New York district borders Lake Erie.  He is a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Caucus and staunch supporter of Great Lakes protection, including a recent effort calling on the Ohio Governor to veto legislation that would have siphoned 5 gallons of water a day from Lake Erie.