Feds Hiring Unemployed for Great Lakes Cleanup

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Photo: Egan Snow/CC

Who says we have to choose between jobs and the environment? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is starting a sort of Public Works program for the Great Lakes --- prioritizing funding for restoration projects that put the unemployed back to work. The money in play is only $6 million, however. Maybe there's more to come?
EPA is calling this a Restoration Challenge, as part of the federally funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The GLRI is the five-year, Obama-backed plan (and campaign promise) to clean up historic pollution and prevent new pollution in the lakes, combat invasive species, etc. The plan was authorized at $475 million for fiscal year 2010, and later cut to $300 million in the 2011 measure that kept the U.S. government running (an employment bill for Congress?)

The latest $6 million is being set aside "for federal agencies that propose restoration work in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. A key criterion for approvable projects is that they must put at least 20 unemployed people to work," EPA officials say.

Michigan, the Great Lakes state, has an unemployment rate of 10.9%, the worst on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list compared to other states in the basin, like Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Perhaps this is meant as a way to garner more public support for restoration, or respond to critics of recent restoration spending. Maybe it's a little of both. Have you heard about money earmarked to trap and kill feral swine?

The latest $6 million for projects that put people back to work must "provide immediate, direct ecological benefits; be located in areas identified as federal priorities such as national lakeshores or areas of concern; include a detailed budget, and produce measurable results."

The back-to-work money is due to be awarded by the end of September. How many people can $6 million put back to work? In simple math, just 120 people at $50,000 each, or 200 at $30,000. Not exactly making waves. But what if more environmental programs were sold or approached like this? Just a thought. Gotta go, more work to do.

More on the North American Great Lakes
Great Lakes, Great Problems, and Pretty Good Restoration Plan, Finally
Michigan Lawmakers Propose Ban on Offshore Wind in Great Lakes
Whales Burp Plastic in the Great Lakes
NASA Says Moon May Have More Water than the Great Lakes

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