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The bright side of ineptitude PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 20:20

The incompetence that is on such vivid display in the White House is worrisome—the people in charge of an entire branch of the government of the most powerful nation in the world are supposed to know what they’re doing. There is a bright side, however: The bumbling of the Trump presidency has in a number of instances saved the country from policy and budget proposals that would be harmful if adopted.

Good examples are the Trump administration’s fizzled-out threats to the Great Lakes.

Trump and his budget team called on Congress to kill the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the NOAA Sea Grant program by denying them funding in the federal budget. The funding cuts were among many pushed in a strategy to free up federal money for building the wall on the Mexican border and other Trump priorities.

But the Republican-controlled Congress had no problem rejecting the deal offered by the self-proclaimed king of negotiators and author of the self-aggrandizing book “The Art of the Deal.”

Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Great Lakes program, and Sea Grant was approved at about the same level as 2016. No money was included in the budget passed by Congress for construction of the border wall. Few of the Trump significant budget proposals of any kind made it through Congress.

It is possible that the administration functionaries who drafted the cuts that threatened the lakes had no idea what the targeted programs mean to the Great Lakes. Maybe it was enough for them just to know that they involve science, a subject of scorn in the Trump campaign. 

The GLRI has worked with documented success to restore Great Lakes damaged by industrial pollution and prevent catastrophic degradation of water quality by explosive algae growth and invasive species. 

Did the staffers who put together what the Trump administration named “The America First Budget” even know that the Great Lakes provide drinking water for 35 million Americans, support 1.5 million American jobs in tourism, boating and fishing and contribute $5 trillion a year to America’s economy?

Sea Grant is but a small piece of NOAA, so the administration budget drafters might not have taken the trouble to find out what it does before they decided to stop funding it. With a national network of 33 colleges and universities, Sea Grant fosters research, training and projects aimed at the conservation and practical use of ocean coastal waters and the Great Lakes. Its research has been particularly important to commercial and sport fishing, but its benefits extend well beyond that.

The Wisconsin Sea Grant program, managed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was the first in the Great Lakes. Its work has touched Ozaukee County and its Lake Michigan port, Port Washington, in a number of ways, including identification of shipwrecks lying off the county coast for the proposed NOAA sanctuary.

Sea Grant provides training and technical support for the Clean Marina initiative. The Port Washington Marina was one of the first to qualify for the program, which protects the local aquatic environment and adds appeal to the marina in attracting slip renters.

Sea Grant’s impact on Port Washington is evident also in the beach safety measures recommended by Sea Grant’s Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium, which have been adopted in the rescue devices and explanatory signs provided here. 

Also thanks to Sea Grant, rip current detectors are in place in Port Washington to address the rough-water phenomenon that claims more lives in the Great Lakes region than tornados, lightning and floods and was a factor in the drowning of a local teenager five years ago.

Sea Grant and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have dodged fatal bullets, but will surely be vulnerable in the future. While the country certainly needs a better functioning executive branch, it would be best for the Great Lakes if Trump and company don’t get any more competent at getting misguided budget cuts through Congress in time for the next budget cycle.

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