Today, CEQ hosted a White House Community Leaders Briefing on the Great Lakes Region with environmental, academic, business and civic leaders from throughout the Midwest. The briefing was an important opportunity for dialogue between Great Lakes leaders and senior Administration officials like Counselor to the President Pete Rouse, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, and USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills, on the importance of community leadership in Great Lake restoration.
The Great Lakes are home to some of America's finest beaches, world-class fisheries, and some of the world's most popular tourist destinations. They are also one of the planet's greatest natural resources, providing drinking water for more than 30 million people and supporting one of the world's largest regional economies.
The Administration has made it a priority to work with state, city, environmental, academic and business leaders toward lasting solutions for the Great Lakes. We have made the most significant investment in history in Great Lakes restoration – more than $1 billion since the President took office – and launched the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to dedicate sustained attention to restoring this vital ecosystem. Led by U.S. EPA, the initiative has already removed more than 1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment and protected or restored more than 20,000 acres of essential habitat.
But there is much more work to do, and now is not the time to scale back our Nation's commitment to the Great Lakes. Most recently, the President's FY 2013 budget included $300 million to continue critical interagency Great Lakes ecosystem restoration work. These GLRI funds, combined with agencies' significant base Great Lakes funds, will help advance our collective work to return this ecosystem to health.
We are committed to continuing progress in the Great Lakes. Today's gathering at the White House was another important step in advancing the partnership between the Administration and the dynamic community of leaders that has fostered success for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its goal of a healthy environment and thriving economy for all Americans.
Rohan Patel is Associate Director for Public Engagement at the White House Council on Environmental Quality