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Catherine McKenna seeks EPA head Scott Pruitt’s help to restore Great Lakes

In a June 30, 2005 file photo, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Lake Michigan is seen from the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City, Mich. President Donald Trump wants to eliminate federal support of a program that addresses the Great Lakes' most pressing environmental threats.

Carlos Osorio/AP

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna met U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday and urged him to support bilateral programs aimed at restoring the Great Lakes on a day the Trump administration released a proposed budget that would virtually eliminate funding for the effort.

Ms. McKenna was on a two-day visit to Washington as part of a full-court press by the Liberal government to establish relations with the Republican administration and leaders in Congress.

Her meeting with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency came as President Donald Trump released his plan that would cut the agency's budget by 30 per cent and slash a host of programs that support climate-change action, environmental protection and development of clean-energy alternatives. The White House plan will face a rough ride in Congress, where key Republicans and Democrats are already speaking out against some of the more draconian cuts.

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But it is clear the Liberal government and the Trump administration are on diverging paths when it comes to energy, climate change and the environment.

"I was pretty clear on how important continued investment by Canada and the U.S. is to the health of the Great Lakes, and I think he gets it," Ms. McKenna said in a telephone interview from Washington. "I think he understands the importance of the Great Lakes to the region and to the economy."

She predicted the Trump budget would not survive in its current form. "This is not the final budget. There's going to be a whole process it goes through … and you have members of Congress who are going to be pretty vocal on the need for action on the Great Lakes."

Included in the proposed cuts is the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has pumped more than $2.2-billion (U.S.) into the eight-state region for projects that have removed toxic wastes from industrial harbours, fought invasive species such as Asian carp, restored wildlife habitat and supported efforts to prevent harmful algal blooms.

On Wednesday night, Ms. McKenna delivered a keynote address at a Canadian embassy reception on the importance of bilateral collaboration to protect and restore the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water for 45 million people on both sides of the border. At that reception, she met with members of Congress from both parties who support funding for Great Lakes programs that the Trump administration would cut.

The White House budget would also eliminate funding for a host of climate-change programs, including financing for international aid and NASA earth-science missions. Mr. Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Thursday the administration is looking to cut spending on climate change because "we consider it to be a waste of your money."

Last week, Mr. Pruitt said he did not believe human actions are the primary cause of climate change and questioned whether the EPA should regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, which scientists say are a prime cause of global warming.

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Ms. McKenna said the two governments "are not going to agree on everything," and reiterated the Liberal government's stance that there is economic opportunity in the shift to a lower-carbon economy. The EPA administrator has close ties to the oil and gas industry in his home state of Oklahoma.

"I certainly made the case in my meeting today on why we think climate action is good for the economy," she said. "I talked about the economic opportunity and I talked about how businesses are moving ahead and are partnering with us in Canada in putting a price on pollution."

Despite the Trump administration's rejection of climate-change policy, Ms. McKenna said the Liberal government will not slow its plan to adopt a national carbon-pricing plan or regulations aimed at reducing emissions. "I think we're engaging in smart policy in Canada," she said. "Canadians expect action on climate change and they also expect us to be growing the economy."

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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