Republican and Democratic Senators on the Committee on the Environment and Public Works came together today to pass the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act, as part of the Great Waters package of bills that we have been advocating for over the past months. This is a very positive step forward for the Great Lakes that authorizes more than $650 million for restoration on a multi-year authorization instead of forcing us to work with piecemeal bills on an annual basis. The bill was introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-OH).
Today’s EPW passage of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act is a continuation of my decades-long legacy of protecting the Great Lakes,” Voinovich – who will be retiring – stated in a press release. “This legislation will ensure the vital resources necessary to protect and preserve the Great Lakes for future generations – it will also establish the advisory capacity necessary for federal agencies, local government and others to come together to share ideas and guidance and to prioritize funding needs.”
There was significant debate on the legislation, but after Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich crafted a substitute amendment (designed after weeks of consultation with stakeholders) with important although technical changes. Two other Great Lakes lawmakers are co-sponsoring the amendment they are Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act integrates several successful restoration programs into one bill. It permanently authorizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $475 million, establishing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as the lead program in the region to guide restoration efforts. The legislation re-authorizes the Great Lakes Legacy Act at $150 million. Both are programs that invest in restoring habitat, preventing invasive species, cleaning up toxic pollution, and reducing polluted run-off from fields and cities. It also authorizes the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office—which oversees and directs the nation’s Great Lakes restoration efforts—at $25 million. The bill also includes strong provisions to ensure restoration efforts are prioritized, science-based and transparent.
“Nearly a tenth of our population lives in the Great Lakes basin, relying on the life-sustaining drinking water the lakes provide, and reaping economic and recreational benefits from them daily,” Levin stated,” The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act provides a host of sensible, bipartisan proposals that appropriately treat the lakes as the great treasure they are. It would also streamline the various advisory and governing bodies to more efficiently use taxpayer dollars for these important goals. The bill aims to ensure the lakes will prosper both today and in the long term so that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy and benefit from them as we have.”
In addition to passing the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed restoration bills to restore other great waters, including the Chesapeake Bay, Columbia River, Gulf of Mexico, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay.
“We applaud Senators Levin, Voinovich, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand and the entire Great Lakes delegation for making the restoration of this iconic resource a national priority,” said Jeff Skelding, the National Campaign Director for Healing Our Waters. “This bill will help accelerate the restoration of the Great Lakes, which are the foundation of our economy and way of life.”