Rep. Steve LaTourette: A Profile in Courage?

Rep. Steve LaTourette

Rep. Steve LaTourette

Not only is Great Lakes Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) on the Appropriations Committee, he is on the subcommittee that will be tasked with recommending to the full committee how much money gets put into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. And that means he is in a good position to explain to the Chair Rep. Norm Dicks why full funding of the GLRI is so vital to Rep. LaTourette’s district and our region. So, as far as we’re concerned, LaTourette is a very important guy.

Rep. LaTourette’s district (14) is in Northeast Ohio and runs right along Lake Erie. In fact, his district has the longest shoreline along Lake Erie. Cleveland sits squarely in his district along with other industrial and rural areas. The District is home to two Areas of Concern. There is no doubt that LaTourette’s district would reap great economic gains if the Great Lakes restoration package is fully funded.

First of all, the Areas of Concern named so for the toxic chemicals that sift in the sediments of the lake and her tributaries would be in a much better position to be cleaned up and delisted if the GLRI is fully funded. The President has set aside $146.9 million to clean up these industrial legacy sites so that fishing and swimming is safe and more importantly, the water is drinkable.

Cleveland, Ohio is one of many Great Lakes cities reconnecting with the Lake. City planners realize there is a lot of business and residential potential tied to waterfront development. In an effort to give Cleveland a competitive edge, the Lakefront has become the central piece of the city’s economic development plans. Their plans include lakefront housing, expansion of green space at Battery Park and a pedestrian bridge for North Coast Harbor. A recent Brookings Institution analysis found that Great Lakes cities will see an economic gain between $200 million to $13.3 billion if the Lakes are restored. Cleveland can expect profits between $2.1 and $3.7 billion from increased tourism, business, and property ownership if restoration is fully funded (and that’s a conservative estimate!). So cleaning up the AOC’s and the nonpoint source pollution (there is another $97.3 million to deal with this odious and odorous problem) would really help the urban centers and local economies in LaTourette’s district.

“Our message to Congress is simple,” Dave Ullrich, executive director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative has said. “Local governments have a strategy and are willing and able to get to work to restore the Great Lakes, safeguard public health, and create jobs. It’s time for Congress to move forward and act.”

There is also money in the GLRI to deal with the problem of invasive species – a problem that so plagued Lake Erie in the past that it caused the Lake to have massive dead zones. The invasive species have not gone away, in fact, they are on the increase, but the GLRI would spend $60.3 million to help localities fight this costly and significant problem.

In fact, the health of the lake is dependent upon the entire Lake Erie watershed. Between urban development, agricultural run-off, shore-line development, climate change, invasive species and the destruction of natural filtering systems the integrity of the Lake is at risk. That means habitat restoration is also an integral part of restoring the lakes and making them attractive and usable again. The GLRI dedicates $105.3 million to this endeavor.

In a 2007 report, the Brookings Institution found that for every dollar invested in implementing the Great Lakes comprehensive restoration strategy the region will see a two dollar return. But this should not be news to Rep. LaTourette who is co-chair of the Northeast Midwest Coalition – a bipartisan group of Congressmen who understand the economic competitiveness that restoration brings to the Midwest states. He was also Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Task Force for a decade – the Task Force has written a letter for the Appropriations Committee urging them to fully fund the GLRI. (Unfortunately, Rep. LaTourette has yet to sign onto it.)

During Rep. LaTourette’s long Congressional stint, he has at times courageously stood up for the Great Lakes. During the last Administration it wasn’t always popular to be a Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist, but Rep. LaTourette did what was right and what was good for his district. He co-sponsored the Great Lakes Compact, authored a reauthorization of the National Invasive Species Act and has fought drilling in the Great Lakes. And under his watch, the clean up of the Ashtabula AOC has been completed. So, sounds like he could be our man: LaTourette is in a good position to emerge as the next great leader on Great Lakes issues in Congress. It will take delivering full funding. It will mean he will have to corner Rep. Dicks and convince him that we need every last cent of the $475 million to put people to work, jump start the Great Lakes economic engine and finally restore 90 percent of this nation’s increasingly vital fresh water resource. So, the question is, will he be a nominee for next year’s Profile of Courage Award or not?

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