EPA projects work to be completed at 22 of 25 remaining Great Lakes ‘areas of concern’ by 2030
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan announced that, as a direct result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, EPA will make significant progress in the clean-up and restoration of the Great Lakes’ most environmentally degraded sites, securing clean water and a better environment for millions of Americans in the Great Lakes region.
The agency will use the bulk of the $1 billion investment in the Great Lakes from the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” to clean and restore severely degraded sites, known as “areas of concern” or “AOCs.” A press release noted, “This will allow for a major acceleration of progress that will deliver significant environmental, economic, health and recreational benefits for communities in New York and throughout the Great Lakes region.”
Regan said, “The Great Lakes are a vital economic engine and an irreplaceable environmental wonder, supplying drinking water for more than 40 million people, supporting more than 1.3 million jobs, and sustaining life for thousands of species. Through the investments from President Biden’s ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,’ we will make unprecedented progress in our efforts to restore and protect the waters and the communities of the Great Lakes basin. Building a better America means investing in our natural resources and the communities they support.”
White House Senior Adviser and Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said, “With this investment, President Biden is delivering major environmental, public health and economic wins for the Great Lakes region. Building a better America requires us to confront legacy pollution and clean up the environment – ensuring our kids drink clean water and creating good-paying jobs in the process. We know that cleaning up these waterways and improving the health of the Great Lakes will also create great economic opportunities for communities across the eight-state region and beyond.”
In 2018, an independent economic study from the Great Lakes Commission and the University of Michigan found that every Great Lakes Restoration Initiative dollar spent produces an additional $3.35 of economic activity. For older industrial cities, including “AOCs” such as Buffalo and Detroit, the study found that there may be more than $4 in additional economic activity for each federal dollar spent. A 2020 analysis of the Great Lakes determined that the region supports more than 1.3 million jobs, generating $82 billion in wages annually.
EPA projects that the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” funding, combined with funds from annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appropriations and funding from other sources, will, between now and the end of 2030, enable the agency and its partners to bring work to completion across 22 of the 25 remaining “AOCs,” with “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” funding directly supporting 11 of these sites. In sum, this will leave only three of the original 31 U.S. “AOCs” with work remaining, with those sites also benefiting from “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” funding. In the coming months, EPA will release more detailed information on the implementation of the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” funding for the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes “AOCs” in New York where work is expected to be completed by 2030 include: Buffalo River, Eighteen Mile Creek, Rochester embayment and Niagara River.
EPA will award this funding in accordance with the Biden administration’s “Justice40 Initiative,” which promises to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits from key federal investments to underserved communities. The effort also supports Biden’s “America the Beautiful” initiative, which includes commitments to honor the nation’s conservation traditions, private property rights, the sovereignty of Tribal Nations, and the values and priorities of local communities.
In addition to support from the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” directed toward cleaning up the “AOCs,” EPA will continue the agency’s work to address other key issues such as addressing harmful algal blooms, nutrient reduction activities, protecting against invasive species, and monitoring the health of the Great Lakes. EPA anticipates additional resources could be available for these and other priorities because of the infusion of resources from the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “As someone who grew up near Lake Erie at a time when it was bloated with toxic wastes, I know how important it is that we continue clean up efforts to restore our Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable national treasure that provide drinking water and recreation opportunities for countless New York communities, and this critical funding from the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’ will help advance restoration efforts and deliver significant environmental, economic, and health benefits throughout the region. Thank you, President Biden, EPA Administrator Regan, and our congressional partners for supporting the Lakes’ ongoing recovery.”
Rep. Brian Higgins said, “The importance and impact of this achievement, made possible thanks to the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,’ can’t be overstated. It was just a generation ago that the Buffalo River was so polluted with industrial waste that it caught on fire. Cleaning up and de-listing Great Lakes ‘areas of concern,’ including the Buffalo River, Niagara River and Eighteen Mile Creek in Western New York, is an incredible accomplishment that will contribute to a healthier environment and economy for Great Lakes communities and the entire nation.”
City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "As home to 20% of the world's fresh water supply, the Great Lakes are a vital resource that is more critical now than ever due to the harsh impacts of climate change. I want to thank President Biden for taking bold and aggressive action to protect and preserve this natural resource that is so important to Buffalo and our nation. This generational investment, coupled with annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appropriations, will ensure the health of Buffalo’s waterways. I applaud President Biden's willingness to promote regional economies while also protecting the planet from even worse climate change consequences."
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Beverly Cook said, “SRMT looks forward to implementing ‘AOC’ management actions under the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’ and Great Lake Restoration Initiative. The funding has the potential to accelerate opportunities for Tribal Nations, states and EPA to work cooperatively to remove impairments and ultimately delist sites.”
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, said, “Thanks to President Biden, EPA Administrator Regan, and the Great Lakes congressional delegation, the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’ is making generational investments to safeguard our natural resources and improve quality of life for our communities. Thanks to these critical partners, ‘BIL’ resources will sustain efforts underway to clean up historic contamination, protect communities from flooding and severe weather made worse by climate change, safeguard drinking water supplies for millions of New Yorkers and habitats for fish and wildlife, and create new opportunities for recreation on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. New York is grateful to all of our partners for their ongoing commitment to cleaning up these waters to benefit all New Yorkers.”
To see the full list of “areas of concern” and anticipated work completion and delisting dates, visit. https://www.epa.gov/great-lakes-aocs/list-great-lakes-aocs.