Monday, January 4, 2010

MI & MN Ask U.S. Supreme Court To Stop Asian Carp

Dec 21: Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that he has filed an action with the United States Supreme Court to immediately order Federal, state, and local officials responsible for Chicago-area locks and waterways to close them in order to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. According to a release from the AG, "The fish are an aggressive invasive species that could quickly devastate Great Lakes fish populations, causing severe damage to Michigan's economy by ruining the Great Lakes' $7 billion fishing and tourism industries."

AG Cox said, "Stopping Asian carp is an economic and environmental necessity for Michigan. The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable resource. Thousands of jobs are at stake and we will not get a second chance once the carp enter Lake Michigan. The actions of Illinois and federal authorities have not been enough to assure us the Lakes are safe. That's why the waterways must be shut down until we are assured that Michigan will be protected."

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court asks for the following actions: (1) Closure of the locks at the O'Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works; (2) Operation of the sluice gates at the Wilmette Pumping Station, the O'Brien Lock and Dam, and the Chicago Controlling Works in a manner that will prevent carp from passing into Lake Michigan; (3) Creation of new barriers to prevent carp from escaping from the Des Plaines River into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal during flood events, and from getting to Lake Michigan through the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers; (4) Comprehensive study of the Chicago waterway system to define where and how many carp are in these waters, and to eradicate them; and (5) Action to permanently separate these waterways from the Great Lakes.

The suit comes after Illinois and Federal authorities reportedly executed the largest fish kill in Illinois history in response to the discovery of Asian carp DNA just miles from Lake Michigan [See WIMS 12/8/09]. Cox said, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has itself admitted allowing Asian carp into the Great Lakes would be an 'ecological and economic disaster. Michigan families whose jobs and way of life depend on the health of the Great Lakes deserve to know there is a long-term solution to this crisis." Cox has appointed veteran assistant attorneys general Peter Manning and Robert Reichel to lead the team of lawyers handling this case.

On December 22, the Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a brief joining in the action and supporting the relief requested by Michigan. Minnesota has 140 miles of Lake Superior shoreline. Swanson’s brief points out that recreational and commercial fishing on Lake Superior are important to Minnesota’s economy. The brief indicates that, “Maintaining proper stewardship of the Great Lakes by stopping the entry of Asian carp is essential to the continued use and enjoyment of this important American natural resource.” She cited the December 4, 2009 report of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers saying, “The prevention of an interbasin transfer of bighead and silver carp from the Illinois River to Lake Michigan is paramount in avoiding an ecologic and economic disaster.”

Swanson’s brief also expresses concern for Minnesota’s regular fishing industry if Asian carp advance into inland Minnesota lakes through Lake Superior: She indicated, “If they invade the Great Lakes, they will have access to the rivers and tributaries that feed into the Great Lakes, thereby threatening inland waters. This would be extremely destructive to Minnesota’s economy and way of life, where inland fishing is an important recreational and economic pursuit. Indeed, Minnesota is known as ‘The Land of 10,000 Lakes,’ and the recreational fishing in Minnesota alone is a $2.725 billion per year industry.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which lauded the action, issued a release saying the lawsuit re-opens a nearly century-old Supreme Court case against the State of Illinois and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to force immediate action on the carp issue. Legal and policy experts from NRDC said the suit could "trigger an improvement of the region’s water infrastructure and enhance Great Lakes transportation policy."

Henry Henderson, Director of NRDC's Midwest Program (and a former Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago) who has blogged extensively on the potential for the Supreme Court case to be a viable legal tool to bring increased urgency to the carp crisis said, “Michigan has made a smart move with this bid to re-open the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of threats posed by the Chicago Diversion to the well-being of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The other Great Lakes states should join Michigan in pursuing all available legal steps to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.

“Throughout this slow-motion disaster we have seen a decided lack of urgency in the actions taken to fend off the carp threat. Hopefully, Michigan’s action will light a fire. Temporary emergency closure of the locks will not fix the problem -- but it will provide breathing room while real, scientifically sound, legally binding solutions are installed and public processes are engaged. This will not be a quick long-term fix. Though only a fraction of the goods passing through the Chicago region are waterborne, there are legitimate shipping and business concerns about the impact that this could have on barge traffic and management of sewage. With the health of the Great Lakes at stake, however, the interests of multi-billion dollar fishing, boating, and tourism industries and the quality of 1/5 of the world’s fresh water should really take precedence.”

Access a release from the Michigan AG (
click here). Access a release from the Minnesota AG (click here). Access a release from NRDC with links to related information (click here).