Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oberstar & Levin Introduce House & Senate Compact Resolutions

Jul 23: According to a release from the Council of Great Lakes Governors (CGLG), the Governors applauded members of Congress for "boldly acting to protect the Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Basin." Specifically, members of Congress led by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Congressman Steven LaTourette (R-OH) introduced a joint resolution providing consent to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact [See WIMS 7/10/08]. The Compact provides a management framework for achieving sustainable water use and resource protection. It has been ratified by each of the eight Great Lakes State legislatures. To become law, Congress must now provide its consent.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D), CGLG Chair, said, “I applaud the members of Congress for their leadership in protecting the Great Lakes. It is gratifying to see the consensus that we have built in our region reflected in the bipartisan Congressional support for this historic measure. We must now do all that we can to work with our Congressional partners to turn these protections into law.” Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) said, “Today I applaud the introduction of legislation to approve the Great Lakes Compact and urge Congress to act quickly. Once enacted into law, the Compact will ensure that our Great Lakes are protected and preserved for generations to come.”

CGLG said, "Today’s introduction illustrates the regional and bi-partisan consensus that has been built in support of the Compact. A substantial number of members of Congress are original cosponsors of the resolution introduced today and both of the presumptive nominees of the major parties (Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona)) have expressed their support for the Compact."

According to CGLG the Compact has attracted the support of key members of Congress, Mayors and local government officials as well as more than 150 diverse groups of stakeholders who depend on the Great Lakes. More than 1300 State legislators have voted to approve the Compact -- about 95% of all legislators who have cast a vote on it.

A release from Congressman Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), said he is taking the lead in the effort to win approval for the Compact which he said, "protects the Great Lakes from water diversion projects." Oberstar and other congressional members from the House and the Senate today announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation to ratify the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. Oberstar, introduced the legislation in the House.

Oberstar indicated the compact, which will manage water diversions, withdrawals, and consumptive use proposals, has been approved by the eight state legislatures. He said, "Because less than one percent of the Great Lakes water is renewed annually, we must take seriously any potential threat that may affect the quality or available quantities of water from the Great Lakes, such as climate change and growing consumptive uses of water. While there has been idle talk of exporting water from the Great Lakes to drought prone regions of the nation, conserving the priceless resource of the Great Lakes must be a top priority."

In the Senate, Senator Levin is introducing a joint resolution with cosponsors including: Senators Voinovich, Bayh, Brown, Casey, Clinton, Coleman, Durbin, Feingold, Klobuchar, Kohl, Lugar, Obama, Stabenow, Schumer, and Specter. Levin said, "The Great Lakes are a tremendous natural resource for Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes basin. A great deal of progress has been made towards safeguarding the Great Lakes from exports and diversions, and the Great Lakes Compact will build on the existing protections.”

While many groups and organizations have signed on to support the Compact, two former Michigan Governors, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and their attorney Jim Olson have continued to challenge the unlimited "exemption" in the Compact allowing water to be removed from the basin by private companies in containers less than 20 litres or 5.7 gallons. Olson maintains that the exemption establishes a legal precedent giving water a "product" exemption from the diversion ban. Olson and former Governors Milliken (R) and Blanchard (D) have raised the concerns that without "public trust doctrine" language, the State's and Great Lakes waters are at risk of sale and export because of NAFTA and GATT -- international trade agreement provisions which prevent bans or strict regulation on water once it is a commodity.

Access a release from CGLG (
click here). Access a letter from CGLG to the Congressional sponsors (click here). Access a release from Representative Oberstar (click here). Access a release from Senator Levin (click here). Access a posting from Michigan Attorney Jim Olson on the public trust concern (click here). WIMS-Great Lakes Environment blog posts on the Compact approvals (click here). Access a Toronto Star article discussing the product exemption issues (click here). Access a release from MI Lt. Gov. John Cherry, Chair of the Great Lakes Commission (click here).