WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 7) – On the same day that a Congressional panel heard testimony on the devastating impacts invasive species are having on the Great Lakes, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill to restore the lakes, drawing praise from the leading coalition working to protect them.
“This is an important bill that deserves swift passage, because every day we wait, the problems facing the Great Lakes get worse and the solutions more costly,” said Jeff Skelding campaign director of the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition. “This bill provides manageable solutions to restore a resource that is the foundation of the economy and quality of life for millions of Americans.”
The Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act of 2007, a comprehensive bill that would help stop sewage contamination, prevent invasive species introductions, and restore wetlands, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and U.S. Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI).
“We applaud the bipartisan group of Congressmen who put this bill forward,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Coalition. “Great Lakes restoration is an issue defined by urgency, not politics. We look forward to working with Democratic and Republican leaders to pass this bill and implement its manageable solutions.”
The bill was to be introduced at a press conference on the Hill, attended by several of the bill’s authors and original co-sponsors and dozens of citizens. More than 200 citizens were in Washington, D.C., as members of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, Great Lakes Commission, and other organizations, to urge Congress to restore the lakes.
“The Great Lakes are an awe-inspiring natural and economic resource, and we have an obligation to do everything we can to ensure their long-term health,” said Sen. Levin. “The lakes face a host of ongoing challenges, including threats to water quality, contaminated sediments and the impacts of more than 180 non-native species. The time is now for an ambitious commitment of federal resources to continue to protect and restore the lakes and build for the future because waiting will only make the problems worse.”
“This pivotal legislation sends a clear message to the country that we are committed to restoring the Great Lakes and protecting them from further deterioration,” said Sen. Voinovich. “It is vital that Americans understand this is not a regional problem — the deterioration of the Great Lakes affects the country as a whole. I am pleased that we finally have a coordinated and unified strategy that is absolutely necessary to saving one of our nation’s greatest natural resources. I will work with my colleagues to ensure this vital plan is implemented.” The Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act puts into practice priority recommendations of a Great Lakes clean-up plan released in 2005 as part of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a planning process established by President Bush in 2004. “The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration has done critical work to protect one of our nation’s most complex and vulnerable ecosystems,” said Rep. Emanuel. “With this legislation and their continued efforts, we are making great strides in preserving our great national resource for our next generation.”
“The longer we wait to implement the recommended changes, the more expensive and more complicated the solutions become,” said Rep. Ehlers. “This is particularly true in two areas – preventing further introductions of aquatic invasive species and cleaning up contaminated sediments in Areas of Concern. I also want to emphasize that the Regional Collaboration Strategy should be used as it was intended: not just as a wish-list of program changes and funding levels, but as a strategic action plan to guide resource allocation, policy decision-making and priority-setting.”
The Great Lakes support business, agriculture, shipping and a thriving outdoor industry based on fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, bird-watching and boating. “40 million Americans rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water,” said Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL). “But more than 24 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes each year. We must stop poisoning our water supply. I am proud to support this comprehensive Great Lakes restoration legislation. Our children deserve to inherit clean and safe Great Lakes.”
“The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration is a wide-ranging, cooperative effort supported by a variety of individuals from all walks of life,” said Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI). “Every day we wait to address these problems they get worse and the solutions get more costly, which is why I support the passage of this comprehensive solution during this session of Congress. It is time for Congress to invest in restoring the Great Lakes so that Michigan’s economy, environmental health and quality of life aren’t diminished, and I look forward to playing a role in this legislation’s passage.”
The bill was introduced on the same day that the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the impacts of invasive species on the lakes.
To date, more than 180 non-native species have entered the Great Lakes, and a new invasive species is discovered every 28 weeks on average.
“The Great Lakes are under attack,” said Andy Buchsbaum, co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, in his written testimony to be delivered to the panel. “If we are going to be truly successful in stopping foreign invasions of species from far away places, Congress needs to pass a comprehensive law this year that ends the dumping of untreated ballast water, closes the door on the Asian carp and provides mechanisms to screen species being imported in our country and educate the public on the impact invasive species have on our environment and economy. The economic and ecological wellbeing of our region and a way of life is at stake.”
Comprehensive invasive species legislation – the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (S. 725) – was introduced by Sen. Levin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week. That legislation is a core component of the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act of 2007.
The comprehensive Great Lakes restoration bill introduced today:
- Prevents sewage contamination by assisting communities nationally with improving their wastewater infrastructure.
- Stops the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species by enacting a comprehensive national program.
- Prevents the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes by authorizing the last line of defense against the fish—an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
- Restores fish and wildlife and their habitat.
- Cleans up contaminated sediment.
“This bill tackles the most urgent problems facing the Great Lakes,” said Skelding. “To date, threats to the Great Lakes have mounted, and our response has been inadequate. This bill changes that equation. It’s strong. It’s comprehensive. It’s needed now to protect our drinking water, our economy, our health, and our way of life.”
The Healthy Lakes, Healthy Lives Campaign is directed by the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition. The coalition consists of more than 90 zoos, aquariums, museums, and hunting, fishing, and environmental organizations representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Formed in 2005 with support from the Wege Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and others, the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition reflects a growing public awareness about the urgent need to restore the Great Lakes.
For more information, including testimony from the aquatic invasive species hearing, visit: healthylakes.org