Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act

Background

Currently, as of spring 2015, there are two bills moving through Congress that would authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for five years. The coalition is supportive of strong, lasting Great Lakes protections, something that can be achieved through the authorization of the GLRI.

 

In January of 2015, Representative David Joyce sponsored the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 with 34 cosponsors. The GLRI Act of 2015 would authorize the GLRI for five years at $300 million annually to fund successful programs to clean up toxic pollution, combat invasive species, restore fish and wildlife habitat and reduce runoff from cities and farms. In April of 2015, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015, mirroring the language in Rep. Joyce’s House bill.

 

Michigan lilies, pictured here, have returned to the fen environment now that invasive species have been removed. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Michigan lilies. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

The House GLRI Act has been cosponsored by Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn), Rich Nolan (D-Minn), Tim Walz (D-Minn), Gwen Moore (D-Wis), Reid Ribble (R-Wis), Sean Duffy (R-Wis), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill), Robert Dold (R-Ill), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), Mike Quigley (D-Ill), Jackie Walorski (R-Ind), Larry Bucshon (R-Ind), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind), Sander Levin (D-Mich), Dan Benishek (R-Mich), Candice Miller (R-Mich), Dan Kildee (D-Mich), Mike Bishop (R-Mich), Bill Huizenga (R-Mich), David Joyce (R-Ohio), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), James Renacci (R-Ohio), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Mike Kelly (R-Pa), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Chris Collins (R-NY), Tom Reed (R-NY), John Katko (R-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Chris Gibson (R-NY). The Senate GLRI Act has been cosponsored by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

 

In February of 2015, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act of 2015 (GLEEPA) with 10 other cosponsors. GLEEPA would authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for five years at $475 million annually. GLEEPA would also re-authorize both the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which helps communities clean up toxic hotspots, and the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office, which oversees federal restoration efforts. Additionally, GLEEPA would authorize the Great Lakes Advisory Board, which will recommend restoration priorities that federal agencies use when setting their budgets each year and authorize the federal Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to increase coordination between federal agencies, as well as coordination between federal agencies and non-federal stakeholders.

 

The Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act of 2015 has been cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis), Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Gary Peters (D-Mich), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Al Franken (D-Minn), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind).

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the distance, is the site of new research into the botulism outbreaks that cause bird deaths in the area of the Dunes. Photo from Flickr/rkramer62.

Places along the Great Lakes, like Sleeping Bear Dunes in the distance, will benefit from authorizing restoration programs funded through the GLRI. Photo from Flickr/rkramer62.

To ensure future, long-term success of federal restoration efforts, Congress needs to permanently authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act.

 

Great Lakes restoration will be most effective if funding continues to be targeted on the right priorities and in the right areas. Early indications are that federal restoration efforts are targeting the places most in need, according to a 2012 University of Michigan study that examined cumulative threats to the lakes. The Healing Our Waters–Great Lakes Coalition has also documented more than 110 successful restoration projects in local communities around the region. Local results are compelling. It’s harder to know, at this point, how quickly the Great Lakes as a whole will respond. But we do know two things:

1) The need for Great Lakes restoration dollars remains high. For years, federal budgets failed to keep pace with a growing backlog of restoration work; it is going to take a long-term commitment to get the job done.

2) The continued success of restoration efforts will hinge on whether federal resources are effectively and efficiently targeted through a sustained, long term program.

 

Such authorizing legislation needs to acknowledge bi-national restoration commitments set in the revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement through enhanced regional coordination. It must increase accountability and ensure that restoration efforts focus on priorities that produce the most benefit to the lakes and the people, businesses, and communities that depend on them.

Through the reauthorization of EPA’s Great Lakes Program, Congress can enact a permanent Great Lakes restoration framework that:

  • remains focused on restoration activities that are guided by science and can be adjusted to changes based on ongoing monitoring and assessment;
  • acknowledges the stakeholder advisory board EPA has created and tasks it with setting clear restoration goals and priorities each year, which federal agencies use to develop their annual budgets and restoration plans;
  • acknowledges the improved coordination among federal agencies by formally establishing the Federal Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and the Great Lakes advisor to the EPA administrator;
  • enhances collaboration between the federal government, state, local, tribal, and non-governmental agencies and organizations through public-private partnerships via existing grant programs at all federal agencies; and,
  • recognizes the current leadership role of the EPA.

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