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After threatening funding cut, EPA boss now backs Great Lakes cleanup

Three months ago, the agency wanted it gone.

A wide-ranging government program to protect the Great Lakes seems to have gained an unlikely ally: none other than the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a man who's been called "an avowed anti-environmentalist."

The EPA's report to congress and the president, released this week, shows resounding support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) – an Obama-era project to clean up pollution and protect the region's natural resources – including Lake Superior's North Shore.

"The GLRI is protecting public health in the Great Lakes more than any other coordinated interagency effort in U.S. history," EPA Director Scott Pruitt said in the report

As points out, this praise comes three months after Pruitt's agency "recommended discontinuing" the program. 

Its future has seemed uncertain since March, when a budget proposal from the Trump Administration suggested cutting the GLRI's funding by a whopping 97 percent

But Pruitt, who has previously suggested environmental regulations stifled job growth, now says of the program: "We don’t have to choose between the health of our environment and the health of our economy – we can have both.”

So what changed?

Well, the program actually seems to be working, according to the EPA's report. 

Since its launch in 2010, the agency says, the GLRI has shown "unprecedented results," including increasing property values (by cleaning up "areas of concern") and protecting the region's "economy and ecology" by fighting invasive species, among other achievements. 

And Pruitt actually voiced some support for the program last month during a visit to Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported

For now, the initiative seems to be in the clear, thanks not only to the EPA's support, but also a May budget compromise that backed down from the proposed GLRI funding cuts

What has it done for Lake Superior and Minnesota?

Since the GLRI's launch, Minnesota has received $100 million in federal funding for 155 restoration projects in the state. 

If you're interested in the cleanup efforts here and around the region, you can check out the EPA's interactive map by clicking here.

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