Monday, March 8, 2010

Sens. & Reps. Introduce Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act

Mar 5: The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) hailed legislation introduced in Congress that formally authorizes the recently established Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and elevates the role of the eight Great Lakes states in guiding restoration efforts in partnership with the federal government. The, bipartisan, bicameral "Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act" (S. 3073 & H.R. 4755) also reauthorizes EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a highly successful Federal program established in 2002 that has removed nearly one million cubic yards of toxic sediments from the Great Lakes. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chair of the Great Lakes Commission said, "We need to lock in the federal commitment to cleaning up the Great Lakes. Thanks to the leadership of the President and Congress, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is off to a strong start."

    The Commission noted that the legislation would help achieve the goals of the widely-endorsed Great Lakes restoration strategy and leverage leadership from the Great Lakes states. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Levin (D-MI), and cosponsored by Voinovich (R-OH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Brown (D-OH), Franken (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI) and Durbin (D-IL). The House bill was introduced by Representative Ehlers (R-MI), and cosponsored by Dingell (D-MI), Kirk (R-IL) and Slaughter (D-NY).

    President Obama initiated the GLRI in 2009 and requested $475 million for the program's first year (FY 2010), which was subsequently approved by Congress. The EPA recently announced an action plan for the GLRI that commits $2.2 billion to the program over its five-year lifespan [See WIMS 2/22/10], inclusive of the first year's funding. However, the FY 2011 Administration budget request is reduced to $300 million and advocates are urging Congress to, and the two bills would, restore funding to the $475 million level per year [See WIMS 2/23/10].

    Among other items, the legislation would establish a two-tiered advisory body to the EPA comprised of a "Great Lakes Leadership Council" with executives from federal agencies, states, tribes and local governments, and a "Great Lakes Management Council" with senior managers from these agencies as well as the GLC, the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, along with representation from the industrial, environmental, agricultural and academic community in the Great Lakes region. The Leadership Council would establish annual goals for the GLRI, make budget recommendations and report to Congress on the Initiative's progress. The Management Council would guide implementation of the restoration program and coordinate contributions from various federal, state and local agencies and nongovernmental partners. This structure ensures transparency and accountability while leveraging contributions from the states and other entities in the region.

        The bills would also: Authorize the Federal Interagency Task Force which was established in 2004 by Executive Order which means that it could be dissolved by Executive Order; Reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act which expires in 2010.  The authority is for $150 million per year, the level recommended by the GLRC Strategy Report; and Reauthorize EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) at level funding ($25 million).

    Representative Ehlers said, "The Great Lakes are a precious resource located in our own backyard, so it is imperative that we do everything we can to protect them. The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act will provide for the removal of contamination within the next ten years in the areas of concern identified in the Great Lakes Legacy Act, and it will authorize funding in support of the important recommendations in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. The longer we wait to address areas of serious contamination, the more difficult and expensive it will be to clean them up."

    Access a release from GLC (click here). Access a release from Representative Ehlers (click here). Access legislative details for S. 3073 (click here).  Access legislative details for H.R. 4755 (click here).