Thursday, September 14, 2006

House Hearing On Great Lakes Restoration Strategy

Sep 13: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee, Chaired by John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), held a hearing entitled, The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy: Can it be Implemented to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes? The purposed of the hearing was to receive testimony on the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy and how it is serving as a framework for restoring and protecting the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Basin includes part of the States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, all of the State of Michigan, and part of Ontario, Canada. Over 33 million people live in the Basin, representing one tenth of the U.S. population and one quarter of the Canadian population. The Great Lakes constitute the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth, holding 18% of the world’s fresh water supply and 95% of the U.S. fresh water supply. As Chairman Duncan emphasized in his opening remarks, while the Great Lakes are a high priority for the Great Lakes states and Canada, "...the Great Lakes are also important to our entire nation."

Witnesses testifying included: representatives of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative; U.S. EPA; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Department of the Interior; Council of Great Lakes Governors; and the University of Michigan,School of Natural Resources & Environment, Michigan Sea Grant program.

The current binational framework for restoring the Great Lakes ecosystem is the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that was established in 1972. The purpose of the Agreement is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.” In 1987, the U.S. and Canada amended the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 2). The purpose of Annex 2 is to strengthen the management of the Agreement, develop ecosystem objectives and indicators, address nonpoint sources of pollution, contaminated sediments, airborne toxins, contaminated groundwater, and improve monitoring. Under the Annex 2 management structure, water quality problems are addressed on a sub-basin, lake-wide, and basin-wide basis. To support the commitments made in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in 1987, Congress added section 118 to the Clean Water Act. Section 118 established the Great Lakes National Program Office within EPA. Currently, the annual authorization for appropriations for EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office is $25 million. In recent years, the Great Lakes National Program Office has been funded at a level of approximately $21 million per year.

The governors of the eight Great Lakes states and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec signed the Great Lakes Charter in 1985 to respond to growing interest in diverting water from the Great Lakes to arid regions of the United States. The charter discourages new proposals to divert Great Lakes water, but it has no enforcement provisions. In order to update the regional water management system and ensure that the Great Lakes are protected, the governors and premiers signed the Great Lakes Charter Annex in 2001. Since that time, the Council of Great Lakes Governors has been working to implement the Charter Annex. On December 13, 2005, the Annex Implementing Agreements were signed by the Great Lakes governors and premiers. Once implemented, the signed agreements will provide the necessary framework to help the states and provinces protect the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin.

In 2002, the Great Lakes Legacy Act amended section 118 of the Clean Water Act to authorize $250 million ($50 million a year over five years) for the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office to carry out cost-shared projects to remediate sediment contamination in Areas of Concern. Congress has appropriated approximately $61.5 million for the Great Lakes Legacy Act through Fiscal Year 2006. In 1986, section 1109 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 required approval of all Great Lakes governors for any diversions of Great Lakes waters outside of the Great Lakes basin.

On May 18, 2004, President Bush signed an Executive Order creating the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force (ITF). The Task Force, under the lead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), brings together ten Agency and Cabinet officers to provide strategic direction on Federal Great Lakes policy, priorities, and programs for restoring the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) Strategy formed eight Strategy Teams, each focusing on a different issue related to Great Lakes restoration. The Strategy makes recommendations covering eight areas including: Aquatic Invasive Species ($693.5 million/5 years); Habitat/Species ($1.44 billion/5 years); Coastal Health ($15.3 billion/5 years); Areas of Concern ($823 million/5 years); Nonpoint Source Pollution ($1.63 billion/5 years); Toxic Pollutant Strategy ($340 million/5 years); Information and Indicators ($82 million/5 years); and Sustainable Development ($42 million/5 years).

The GLRC reported in the Strategy that some of the recommendations can be implemented promptly without additional funding while others would require substantial increases in expenditures over many years at Federal, state, and local levels. However, on October 28, 2005, U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson signed and sent to the White House the ITF report. The report dealt a serious blow to the Collaboration's efforts to secure major new funding for Great Lakes restoration. The Task Force report said, "The Federal government strongly believes that the strategy should focus on what can be accomplished within current budget projections." [approximately $5 billion over the next ten years]. The ITF report continued, "The members of the Interagency Task Force have serious concerns with the direction of the GLRC's draft strategy, and strongly urge the GLRC to focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of existing programs, based on likely spending levels and shared responsibilities..."

In its testimony before the Subcommittee, EPA did not make any new or additional funding commitments to the Strategy. A representative of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative testified that it was disappointed by the lack of funding commitments from the Federal government for the Strategy which is estimated to cost $20 billion to implement fully. It was indicated that the Governors and Mayors had requested an initial $300 million commitment and had agreed to nearly match that amount.

Access the hearing website with links to an extensive background, and all witness testimony (
click here). Access the WIMS/EcoBizPort Special Report on Great Lakes Restoration issues for further background information (click here). Access the WIMS-EcoBizPort Special Report on Water Management In Michigan & the Great Lakes for extensive background and links (click here). [*GLakes]