Kaptur, Portman deserve praise for steering proposal to bolster the Great Lakes to passage

Among the provisions in the $17 trillion omnibus spending bill President Joe Biden signed last week was a vital tool for bolstering the Great Lakes region.

The legislation, which cleared Congress on Dec. 23 just before funding for the federal government was slated to expire, includes language creating the Great Lakes Authority. It will address economic and environmental issues facing Ohio and the seven other states in the Great Lakes region.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman each had sponsored, with others, legislation that would create the new authority.

They deserve praise for getting their proposals incorporated into the giant spending package.

The new Great Lakes Authority offers significant support for a region that is key to the nation’s economy. It is a tool that other parts of the country — Appalachia, the Southeast, the Southwest and the northern border region — already enjoy.

It will be empowered to target grants and programs focused on job skills, education, entrepreneurship and technology to promote economic development in communities throughout the region.

It also will work toward development of renewable and alternative energy sources and promote resource conservation, tourism, recreation and preservation of open spaces.

And it will provide aid to areas that are severely economically distressed and underdeveloped and lack resources for improving basic healthcare and other public services.

When Kaptur introduced her proposal last spring, Baiju Shah, president and CEO of the Greater Clevland Partnership, said the authority had the potential to act as a catalyst to drive regional economic growth, broaden regional prosperity and protect the largest source of freshwater in North America.

The hope is that through public-private initiatives and multi-state collaborations, the Great Lakes Authority will be able to spur innovation, job growth and talent development in sectors such as smart manufacturing, water technology and alternative energy that are critical to America’s competitiveness, Shah said then.

Funding for the new authority will be set when the new Congress convenes in 2023. The other similar bodies around the nation have each been supported with about $33 million a year in federal funding.

Already the Great Lakes region is poised for the future.

As Kaptur noted after the legislation was approved, the Great Lakes already has a highly skilled workforce and is a growing, innovative hub for manufacturing, energy, agriculture and defense.

Economically and environmentally, the lakes are vital, providing the world’s largest source of fresh water.

Creation of the new authority should help tap that promising potential.

Kaptur and Portman should be lauded for their work leading the bipartisan effort to establish the Great Lakes Authority.