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Great Lakes and Other Watersheds (4-27-06)

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The Great Lakes are an extremely valuable natural resource for the United States. Constituting one-fifth of the global supply of fresh water, they provide over 35 million Americans with drinking water, food, transportation, and recreation. However, the resources of the Great Lakes are threatened by a variety of environmental problems, including pollution, toxins, invasive species, erosion, habitat loss, and unsustainable development. To address some of these problems, nine federal agencies and several states have implemented nearly 200 environmental restoration programs in the Great Lakes region since the 1970s.

Recent Action

On April 5, 2006, Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Carl Levin (D-MI) and Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) introduced legislation to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Implementation Act of 2006 (S.2545 and H.R.5100) is based on a series of recommendations detailed in a December 2005 report by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian federal and state leaders, environmentalists, industry representatives, and scientists. "The Great Lakes are a unique American treasure, and we must recognize that we are only their temporary stewards," said Levin in a press release accompanying the bill. "We must be good stewards by ensuring that the federal government meets it ongoing obligation to protect and restore the Great Lakes."

The majority of the funding authorized in the legislation would come from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF). The bill would reauthorize the SRF and would draw $20 billion over five years from the fund to assist in upgrades and improvements to community wastewater infrastructure. The bill would also address concerns related to invasive species by reauthorizing the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 and specifically targeting the importation of Asian carp.

Further provisions in the bill would: reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act and increase its grants from $4.5 million to $12 million; provide $150 million per year to contaminated sediment cleanup; implement a new grant program that would distribute up to $10 million per year in grants to reduce mercury deposits; provide $150 million per year to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish an integrated ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes observation system and conduct data analysis, modeling, research, education, and outreach; and authorize $50 million per year to restore waterfront areas.

S.2545, which currently has five cosponsors, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and is awaiting further action. H.5100, with 30 cosponsors has been simultaneously referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, Resources, Science, and House Administration. (4/27/06)

Previous Action

 

Background

In 2003, the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to identify, evaluate, and assess federal and state restoration programs in the Great Lakes. GAO found that 148 federal and 51 state programs were funding environmental restoration in the area, with funding for Great Lakes specific projects totaling $3.7 billion from fiscal year (FY) 92 through 01. In a July 2003 report following the study, GAO recommended "a coordinated strategic plan and monitoring system... to achieve restoration goals."

In response, President Bush issued an executive order in May 2004 that called for the establishment of a Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to improve coordination and communication of Great Lakes restoration projects. Chaired by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Steve Johnson, the task force includes the heads of the Departments of State, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, the Army, Homeland Security, and the Council on Environmental Quality. The executive order also called for the establishment of "a regional collaboration of national significance for the Great Lakes." In December 2004, the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration convened. Present at the initial meeting were members representing the Interagency Task Force, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, the Native American Tribes, and the Great Lakes Congressional Task Force.

Over the next seven months, over 1500 people participated in the development of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (GLRCS). Representatives from federal, state, local and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and industries participated in strategy teams addressing restoration of sediments, coastal health, habitats, invasive species, nonpoint sources, Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxin (PBT) reduction, sustainable development, and indicators and information. A draft of the GLRCS was released for public comment in July 2005, and the final version of the report was published in December 2005.

For additional information on water policy issues in the 109th Congress, see AGI's Clean Water Issues, Water Resources, and Wetlands and Coastal Resources Policy pages.

Sources: Government Accountability Office Report GAO-03-999T, Environmental Protection Agency website, Great Lakes Regional Collaboration website

Contributed by Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on April 27, 2006.


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