Visibly frustrated Members of Congress held a hearing today to discuss ways to improve the Great Lakes Legacy Act. They are frustrated because of the snail-like pace of progress being made cleaning up the remaining toxic sediments lining the Great Lakes and her tributaries after decades of industrialization and farming.
The Members greedily sought out impediments in the Legacy Act to cleaning up the 30 US Areas of Concern from panelists. What will it take to accelerate the process? Do you need more money? How about $150 million a year? That sounded good to Rep. John Hall (D-NY) who wasn’t shocked when told by the EPA that it could cost more than $1 billion to finish cleaning up the 70 sites within the 30 remaining AOC’s, “I compare it to the $12 billion a month [we are spending] in Iraq.”
“Setting the goal at $150 million is reasonable,” said Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich), “I’m not worried about increasing the authorization and I think it is important to increase it because we are poised in a number of areas to move forward with the clean up.”
How about reducing the matching funds that localities and states have to raise for each project from 35 to 25 – will that help asked Michigan’s Rep. Candice Miller? “The Great Lakes Commission is suggesting the match be dropped so we can accelerate more clean ups,” responded the GLC’s Chair and Michigan’s Lt. Governor John D. Cherry Jr.
What else is stopping up the works? HOW Co-Chair Cameron Davis ticked off several ways to improve the legislation so that all sites will be clean by 2020, such as expanding the authorization to provide more funding for more eligible projects, allowing funding for habitat restoration and eliminating the need for “exclusive federal agency project implementation” so that contractors can join in and speed up the work.
“The political will must be found and financial resources allocated to dredge and remove contaminated sediments,” Davis insisted.
The bottom line is that after years of producing goods and being the economic engine of this nation, as well as the arsenal of democracy, the Great Lakes Region has inherited this problem, according to Cherry, who added: “What we all need to do – local, state and federal government is step up.”
If the tone of today’s hearing is any indication, it appears that we have some real advocates on the Hill who are willing to go to the limit to help get the Areas of Concern cleaned up. “We cannot shrink from our responsibilities,” exclaimed Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson at the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.