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EPA head touts water initiatives in Michigan visit

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Emily Lawler
September 30, 2020

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited Michigan on Wednesday, announcing and highlighting grants and loans designed to improve water, drinking water and community health.

In East Lansing, he announced another $95 million investment into a state revolving loan fund that allows Michigan communities to borrow money for water infrastructure improvements.

“This is another $95 million, and it goes into the revolving loan fund for the states to then go loan out to the local water systems across the state to improve water infrastructure,” Wheeler said.

The revolving loan funds, which the federal government is constantly increasing, will help Michigan communities plan, design and build wastewater treatment plants, he said.

The city of East Lansing has tapped into the loan fund for water infrastructure projects, and Mayor Aaron Stephens said they’re an important resource.

“When folks tend to talk about infrastructure they tend to think roads, they tend to think streets. But in reality that means your sewer system, that means your water system, that means everything that makes your community function,” he said.

It was part of a spate of EPA actions Wheeler highlighted in Michigan on Tuesday:

- In a visit to Traverse City, Wheeler announced $5 million in Trash Free Water grants under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Projects can use methods like vessels, mechanical devices and other technology to protect Great Lakes shorelines from trash.

- The agency is also granting $681,000 to the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy for voluntary lead testing of drinking water in child care programs, Wheeler said.

“We all know what happened in Flint, Michigan a few years ago concerning the unsafe levels of lead in drinking water,” he said, and the agency needs to learn from the mistakes of its past.

- On a conference call Wednesday EPA officials announced a grant of $200,000 to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) as part of the EPA’s environmental justice collaborative. The money will be used to “promote community health initiatives in southwest Detroit, that also helped address challenges with COVID-19,” Wheeler said.

He said the project will, “address challenges such as air pollution linked to respiratory disease, access to healthy food, limited healthcare resources and high unemployment.”

The money will also be used for training and informing the community to be more engaged in environmental justice related efforts, said EPA Region 5 administrator Kurt Thiede.

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