NEMWI Briefing Highlights GLRI’s Regional Economic Benefits

A Congressional briefing conducted by Northeast-Midwest Institute held on Thursday, September 19 discussed the successes of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the continued need for federal support for the program to clean up the Great Lakes. The GLRI is a critical federal program that has done tremendous work growing and rebuilding the Great Lakes region’s environment and economy. The briefing provided an overview of the resources needed in the Great Lakes region to continue the progress being made through the GLRI, while also touching on the GLRI Act of 2019, critical legislation that would reauthorize the GLRI for 5 years, starting at $375 million in FY 2022, and increasing by $25 million each year through FY 2026. 

The panel of policy experts consisted of:

  • Matt Mckenna, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program, Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMWI) – view slides.
  • John Hartig Ph.D, Great Lakes Science-Policy Director, International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) – view slides.
  • Matt Doss, Policy Director, Great Lakes Commission (GLC) – view slides.
  • Alexis J. Lopez-Cepero, Water Policy Fellow, Healing Our Waters: Great Lakes Coalition (HOW) – view slides.

Matt McKenna provided a brief overview of the GLRI and the importance of continued federal support for it. He highlighted the five focus areas that the GLRI aims to address: toxic substances and areas of concern (AOC); invasive species like Asian carp; nearshore health and non point source pollution; habitat and wildlife protection and restoration; and accountability, monitoring, evaluation, communities, and partnerships.

Dr. John Hartig discussed a recent IAGLR study that focused on the societal and economic benefits that the GLRI is having on the region through the cleanup of the most polluted and toxic spots in the Great Lakes, which are otherwise known as Areas of Concern (AOC). His presentation focused on AOCs such as the Buffalo River and the St. Louis River, both sites where significant cleanup efforts have had a dramatic impact on those communities. On the Buffalo River AOC site alone, more than $428 million has been generated through waterfront development because of cleanup efforts. 

Matt Doss focused on a quantitative economic study, which was led by the Great Lakes Commission and several other Great Lakes organizations, and authored by economists from a handful of universities, including the University of Michigan. The study found that for every GLRI dollar spent, an additional $3.35 of economic activity was generated. The funding from GLRI has had a major impact on the regional economy by helping create thousands of jobs, increasing personal income, and helping retain and bring in new residents to a region whose population has been stagnant compared to other regions across the country over the last 20 years.

Finally, Alexis J. Lopez-Cepero provided success stories achieved through the GLRI. The Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, a coalition of national and regional organizations focusing on environmental health, continues to play a large role in communicating how the GLRI is improving the quality of life of communities throughout the region. He told numerous stories about how GLRI is connecting nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private businesses and property owners to work together to clean up toxic hot spots, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and protect the lakes from invasive species.

For more information, please contact Matthew McKenna, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute.