Rep. David Obey: A Great Lakes Kind of Guy?

Rep. David Obey

Rep. David Obey

As a chief architect of FY2010 budget, David Obey (D-Wisc.) helped bring money to his Wisconsin district that creates jobs while restoring the Great Lakes. We can only hope this is a harbinger, because as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Obey will play a pivotal role in obtaining or denying the $475 million that the President has set aside for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

In a sense, it would appear the stars have finally aligned for Great Lakes restoration. We have a Great Lakes President with a White House Chief of Staff who is a HUGE advocate for the lakes (read: Rahm Emanuel) and the man who holds the purse strings in the US House of Representatives is from a Great Lakes district in Wisconsin (that would be Rep. Obey from District 7). Still, we can’t be too cautious – numerous Great Lakes authorizations have been underfunded by Congress in years past. And those were fiscally happy years, unlike our current state of fiscal disgrace. We are living in deficit spending times and we have to do everything we can to ensure that Rep. Obey leads the way to fully funding the $475 million initiative. The entire region stands to benefit – more jobs, quality drinking water and more enjoyment of the Great Lakes and their bounty.
Hog Island AOC
Rep. Obey’s district is home to one of the most historic Areas of Concern (AOC) – the St. Louis River and Bay Habitat – which was first polluted during pioneer days and now harbors hazardous waste and leaky landfills. There are two bills right now that would provide money for the cleanup of this toxic pollution: the GLRI and the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The President has proposed (in the GLRI) spending $146.9 million on cleaning up the PCB’s, mercury, pesticides and other toxic substances sifting in the beds of the tributaries and lakes in these AOCs. If Obey comes through with the $146.9 million then the AOC in his own backyard could be pristine once again. At the same time he would bring jobs to his district – someone has to do the clean up – and he would make it more attractive to tourism and recreation and that brings dollars in too.

The Outdoor Tourism Industry is a big employer in Rep. Obey’s 20 county congressional district that includes the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Lake Superior and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. That means his district would surely benefit from GLRI as it will put an end to non-point source pollution such as fertilizer runoff, oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban areas. Nonpoint source pollution spoils the lake shore and rivers making them unattractive and smelly. It is also responsible for beach closings – another big summer tourist activity. The GLRI sets aside $97.3 million to deal with this pressing problem.

But this isn’t the only way GLRI addresses outdoor tourism – fishing is big sport in Wisconsin and Anglers seek out fishing spots that have benefited from habitat restoration because they know the healthy fish will likely be there. The President’s initiative would spend $105.3 million to help increase the fish populations and restore the ecosystem. That is, if it is fully funded.

The President’s initiative would also directly address the dangers of invasive species. This is an issue near-and-dear to Rep. Obey who has been a proponent of ballast water standards that would – if approved by both houses of Congress – do much to end the problem invasive species pose. The GLRI could do much to further Rep. Obey’s goals as it sets aside $60.3 million for the US Fish and Wildlife Service together with the EPA and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to develop ways to deal with the invasive species.

Rep. Obey has a strong record when it comes to Great Lakes restoration. We can only hope that means he will be out in front using his leadership position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee to realize full-funding of the GLRI. We need every dollar in the $475 million budget authorization if we are going to meet our goals for Great Lakes restoration.

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