Monday, August 4, 2008

Senate Approves Compact; Stupak Wants Public Trust Answers

Aug 1: U.S. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), and George Voinovich (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, praised the passage of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Water Basin Resources Compact by unanimous consent in the Senate [See WIMS 7/30/08]. The joint resolution, S.J.Res. 45, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Once passed by the House, the joint resolution goes to the President for his signature. President Bush has already signaled his support for the Compact resolution [See WIMS 7/29/08].

Senator Levin said, “We are temporary stewards of this unique national treasure, the largest fresh water system in the world. Senate passage of this Compact will help us protect the Great Lakes from water diversions and preserve this invaluable resource for future generations. Sensible conservation goals in water use will ensure that our children and great grandchildren benefit from the Great Lakes as we do.”

In 2000, Congress passed legislation directing the governors of the Great Lakes states -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- to negotiate a water management agreement. In 2005, the eight Great Lakes governors, in coordination with the Canadian Premiers of Ontario and Quebec, completed negotiations on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

Each of the eight Great Lakes legislatures considered and approved the Compact, which is designed to protect the Great Lakes through better water management, conservation and public involvement. Congress must pass the joint resolution before the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Basin Water Resources Compact can achieve full force and effect as an interstate compact. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the joint resolution when it reconvenes in September.

While most major environmental, conservation and local government organizations are supporting the Compact, there are still concerns from some regarding the public trust doctrine issue and its relationship to international trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT [
See WIMS 7/23/08]. On July 30, U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (D-Menominee, MI) requested comment from two federal agencies and the International Joint Commission (IJC) on the Great Lakes Compact. In letters sent to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Trade Representative and the IJC, Stupak asked for response to concerns that have been raised regarding the commercialization of Great Lakes water and the possible applicability of international trade law if the compact were to be enacted.

Stupak wrote, “As the largest body of freshwater in the world, it is imperative that legal protection at the state and federal level work to preserve and restore the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water. While I understand that a dispute of this nature has not occurred historically, I am seeking to clarify if international trade law and obligations will have any jurisdiction should we enact the compact into federal law. . . Ratifying the compact could allow Great Lakes water to no longer be held within the public trust and instead be defined as a product for commercial use. I want to thoroughly understand the lasting impact this compact could have on Great Lakes water for years to come. It took the governors more than three years to get this done, so it is not unreasonable for Congress to take the time necessary to make sure we are not opening the door for the commercialization Great Lakes water.”

Access a release from Senator Levin (
click here). Access a release from Representative Stupak and link to the letters (click here). Access legislative details for S.J.Res.45 (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 6577 (click here).