NEMWI Hosts Great Lakes Environmental Summit

The Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMWI) hosted its annual Great Lakes Environmental Summit on Thursday, February 7, convening approximately 40 Great Lakes stakeholder groups for a high-level briefing about the Great Lakes. Dr. Michael Goff, President and CEO of NEMWI, and Matthew McKenna, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program, kicked off the event highlighting the wide range of priorities on the day’s agenda. Issues on the docket included water quality, transportation policy, infrastructure, farm bill implementation, and much more.

Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Co-Chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force, spoke to attendees about important issues currently facing the Great Lakes. She underscored the importance of managing the Asian carp problem, protecting the Lakes from harmful algal blooms, and upgrading infrastructure throughout the Great Lakes. Rep. Kaptur also discussed her new role as the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water. She emphasized that this new Congress presents a great opportunity for the Great Lakes, as five out of the twelve Appropriations’ subcommittees will be chaired by Members from the region.

Staff from the Congressional Task Force on PFAS and the Congressional Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) provided background and updates on action Congress is taking on contaminants in drinking water and on climate change. Additionally, staff from the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Senate Environmental Works Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provided updates on the key priorities of their committees in the new Congress. These included conservation provisions that were included in the farm bill that was passed at the end of 2018; the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI); the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; climate change; and comprehensive infrastructure legislation.

Scott Cameron, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Office at the Department of Interior, described the department’s efforts to reorganize so that regional priorities are better met. He emphasized that Interior’s efforts to reorganize based on geographical location will help streamline many of the Interior’s responsibilities, and better serve the Great Lakes region.

NEWMI staff also provided updates on the remaining FY 2019 appropriations bills and a brief overview of the upcoming FY 2020 bills. Dr. Sri Vedachalam, Director of the NEMWI’s Safe Drinking Water Research and Policy Program, discussed recent activity related to the State Revolving Fund (SRF) in FY 2018 and FY 2019 appropriations as well as changes to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). He also stated that upcoming water regulations, including the proposed lead and copper rule and the PFAS management plan, have been delayed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing the government shutdown.

Dr. Vedachalam also highlighted the range of research currently on NEMWI’s agenda as important legislation is considered in the new 116th Congress. NEMWI is currently undertaking research and policy work related to the water affordability crisis. Water affordability is an enormous problem for American consumers and looms as an overwhelming financial burden in the decades ahead. According to data collected by the Circle of Blue, which has been tracking water rates in large U.S. cities since 2010, the Northeast-Midwest region experienced a 54% increase in average water rates during 2010-2018, with Chicago experiencing the largest increase of 93% over the eight-year period.

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