By Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw
LORAIN, Ohio (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden used a visit to Ohio on Thursday to tout $1 billion in funding for cleaning up and restoring environmentally damaged areas in the Great Lakes region, vowing to continue his push to rebuild America and help U.S. workers.
The trip, which came amid rising risks of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, is part of the White House’s efforts to showcase the benefits of the infrastructure law ahead of crucial midterm elections where the Democrats hope a results-oriented message will allow them to retain power in Washington.
Speaking in Lorain, Ohio, which sits on Lake Erie, Biden said the $1 billion in cleanup funding came from a rare bipartisan infrastructure law signed in November, along with the biggest-ever investment in roads, bridges and highways.
“We’re reinvesting in our economy and in our people, reclaiming our leadership and creating millions of jobs for building a better America,” the Democratic president said, vowing to boost U.S. competitiveness after years of decline.
Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the bipartisan infrastructure law was a “game changer for communities throughout the Great Lakes region.”
“This is a shot in the arm of the 25 sites along the Great Lakes that are listed as areas of concern,” Regan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to the site.
Biden said the United States and Canada had agreed decades ago to clean up “dangerously polluted” sites and habitats in the Great Lakes region that straddles the border between the two countries, which support more than 1.3 million jobs.
“For decades there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans, but very little progress. It was slow. That changes today,” he said.
“It’s going to allow the most significant restoration of the Great Lakes in the history of the Great Lakes.” he said. “We’re going to accelerate cleanup of sites across six states.”
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who helped lead passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law, called the new funding “great news” for efforts to address harmful algae blooms, invasive species, pollution and habitat degradation in Lake Erie and across the Great Lakes.
The administration believes the funding will help accelerate completion of cleanups in federally designated “Areas of Concern,” or AOCs, which were damaged by decades of manufacturing and agricultural interests. It now expects 22 of the remaining 25 AOCs to come off the federal list by 2030.
The infrastructure package will also provide $10 billion in highway funding for Ohio, plus more than $33 billion in competitive grant funding for highway and other transportation projects. It also provides $60 billion for state and local governments to fund major projects.
This will be Biden’s second trip to northeast Ohio in less than a year. The state is home to several important elections this year, including a governor’s race and a closely watched U.S. Senate race to fill the seat of Portman, who is retiring.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Jeff Mason; Writing by Jarrett Renshaw and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Mark Porter)