The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s 2021 web meeting schedule kicked off with a look at political changes in the U.S. federal government wrought by the 2020 election, and their potential impacts on policies and programs that affect the Great Lakes.
Chad Lord, Policy Director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said the new situation in Washington, D.C. – a new administration, a narrowly Democratic House and an evenly split Senate – and the Biden Administration’s stated priorities, from COVID-19 relief/economic recovery to racial and environmental equity and climate change preparedness, present opportunities for the Great Lakes region.
For example, he emphasized the importance of water infrastructure funding and suggested that GLLC members might be able to persuade their federal counterparts to include in the Biden Administration’s pending infrastructure bill funding specifically for states and municipalities to replace old water pipes and/or extant lead pipes.
Lord said there is an opportunity for doing so now that will close when political concerns take over. Among those, he added, are the Democrats’ narrow House majority, redistricting and the 2022 Congressional elections, continued fallout over the 2020 election and the events of January 6, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
So, he said, the HOW Coalition will continue to press Congress to allocate full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as authorized in Congress’s 5-year renewal of the initiative, funding for water infrastructure and clean water protections, including prevention and mitigation of toxic algae blooms.
The Coalition will also keep working to ensure the Brandon Road lock and dam project moves forward to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, he added.
The web meeting was the first of six planned for 2021; the next meeting will be April 9, hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed from the inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute’s focus on that subject.
The 2021 Birkholz Institute, which will take place later this fall, will focus on helping coastal communities become more climate resilient. Information about applying to be a Birkholz Institute Fellow will be disseminated during the summer, said Caucus Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel. The meeting ended on a bittersweet note as Caucus members said farewell to the group’s Director, Lisa Janairo, who is retiring at the end of February.