STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
HEARING TO RECEIVE TESTIMONY ON ANOXIA IN THE CENTRAL BASIN OF LAKE ERIE
AUGUST 5, 2002
Good morning. First and foremost, thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to participate in today’s field hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to better understand recent changes in Lake Erie’s ecosystem.
Second, I thank Chairman Jim Jeffords for calling this hearing at my request. Finally, I thank Senator Jeffords’ staff members, Catharine Ransom and Bryan Richardson, and my staff member, Karen Bachman, for their cooperation and hard work in organizing this hearing.
Looking at the witness list, I think we will have an informative discussion. On Panel One, I would like to welcome David Ullrich, Deputy Regional Administrator for Region 5 of U.S. the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, Illinois; and Gary Isbell of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. Gary and I have known each other for years and I consider him a good friend. The last time Gary and I met was at the trout hatchery the State of Ohio bought in Castalia, Ohio.
On Panel Two, I would like to welcome Dr. Dave Culver of the Ohio State University; Dr. Bob Heath of Kent State University; Elaine Marsh, Lake Erie Board Member of Great Lakes United; Dr. Gerald Matisoff of Case Western Reserve University here in Cleveland; and Dr. Jeff Reutter of the Ohio Sea Grant Program. I’ve been out to see Dr. Reutter at Stone Lab on Gibralter Island, and I hope to visit you again at Stone Lab later this month while I am at Marblehead.
I look forward to hearing your testimony and learning more about the current state of Ohio’s Great Lake.
I have had a love affair with the Great Lakes – and in particular, Lake Erie – all my life. In terms of my public service, one of my greatest sources of comfort and accomplishment has been my work to help clean up and protect the environment, particularly Lake Erie.
Lake Erie’s ecology has come a long way since I was elected to the state legislature in 1966. Back then, Lake Erie formed the northern border of my district and the Lake was known worldwide as a dying lake, suffering from eutrophication. Lake Erie’s decline was heavily covered by the media and became an international symbol of pollution and environmental degradation. I remember the British Broadcasting Company – the BBC – even sending a film crew to make a documentary about it. One reason for all the attention is that Lake Erie is a source of drinking water for 11 million people.
As a state legislator, I made a commitment to stop the deterioration of Lake Erie and to wage the “Second Battle of Lake Erie” to reclaim and restore, to the best of our ability, Ohio’s Great Lake. I have continued this fight throughout my career – as County Commissioner, state legislator, Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and United States Senator.
Seeing the effects of pollution on Lake Erie and the surrounding region, I knew first hand that we had to do more to protect the environment for our children and grandchildren.
Today in Ohio, we celebrate Lake Erie’s improved water quality. It has been a long struggle to win the “Second Battle of Lake Erie, and the battle continues today. [Like the war on terrorism, we don’t know how long this important battle will take, but we know it needs our 100% effort for as long as it takes until we get the job done.]
My involvement in Lake Erie started as a state legislator. I immediately introduced a resolution calling for a $360 million bond issue for municipal sewage treatment plant construction along Lake Erie and cosponsored the creation of the Ohio Water Development Commission to facilitate low-interest funding to help industries eliminate their pollution from our rivers and lakes.
As a state legislator, I formed a four-state legislature committee on Lake Erie that was responsible for stopping four states from going forward with exploratory drilling in the bed of Lake Erie. I also chaired a subcommittee that wrote amendments to Ohio’s air and water laws.
In addition, I was the vice-chairman of a seven-State Legislature Committee on the Environment that culminated in legislation to create state agencies of environmental protection in each of those states, including Ohio.
I also sponsored the legislation to create the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and due to my efforts, I’m known as the “House Father” of the Ohio EPA.
Moreover, because I was concerned that the environment was not getting the attention it deserved, we convinced the Speaker of the Ohio House to create an Environment Committee of which I was the first vice-chairman.
We were starting to make good progress in improving Lake Erie when I became a County Commissioner for Cuyahoga County in 1977. As County Commissioner, I helped stop the Energy Department from considering using the salt mines under Lake Erie as a storage area for nuclear waste. Just a couple of weeks ago – 25 years after we first started talking about a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste – Congress finally did something about it and passed a resolution to approve the Yucca Mountain facility.
As Mayor of Cleveland, I was alarmed about the introduction of zebra mussels into the Great Lakes and conducted the first national meeting to discuss the problem.
As Governor, I had another opportunity to continue the fight for Lake Erie’s future. I made sure Ohio paid its fair share of the Great Lakes Protection Fund, a $100 million endowment to fund research on the Great Lakes. In addition, I breathed new life into the Ohio Lake Erie Commission Office, locating it in Toledo, and creating the Lake Erie Protection Fund, which is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Lake Erie license plates.
Because I was concerned that we had not established baseline information to document where we started or to track the progress we had made, in 1998, we released the Lake Erie Quality Index Report to quantify the results of our efforts to clean up the Lake. Ten indicators were developed to measure environmental, economic, and recreational conditions related to the quality of life enjoyed by those living near or using the waters of Lake Erie. The Lake Erie Quality Index Report provides a baseline on which to measure our progress and it shows the progress we have made to date, as well as the challenges for the future.
In 2000, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission released the Ohio Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Plan, which details a long-term strategy for the State of Ohio and its partners to achieve the goals of the Lake Erie Quality Index. I am very proud of this report and I will be submitting a copy of the report as part of the hearing record. I will also submit a copy of the Ohio Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Plan, which details a long-term strategy for achieving the goals of the Lake Erie Water Quality Index.
As a U.S. Senator, I am pleased to serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee and to work on many issues that impact our nation’s ecosystem. It’s comforting to me that 36 years since I started my career in public service, I am still involved, as a member of the U.S. Senate, in the battle to save Lake Erie.
As a freshman Senator in 1999, I was fortunate to be selected as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. As the Chairman, I was the sponsor of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. Through my involvement in WRDA 2000 and WRDA 1999, I supported environmental restoration programs for the Great Lakes under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program authorizes the Corps of Engineers to plan, design, and implement projects that support the restoration of the fishery, ecosystem, and beneficial uses of the Great Lakes. WRDA authorizes $100 million specifically for projects to restore the Great Lakes fishery and ecosystem.
Through WRDA 2000, we addressed another issue that has made headlines in the past few years - Great Lakes water management. I fully support the efforts of the Council of Great Lakes Governors to develop new agreements for the continued protection of the Great Lakes and to create a new, common standard against which water removals would be reviewed. I look forward to working with the Governors to enact any federal legislation necessary to approve this agreement.
Through the years, I have also worked long and hard on addressing our nation’s critical wastewater infrastructure needs. We have made great strides and spent billions of dollars to improve our nation’s wastewater collection and treatment systems. In fact, since 1965, Lake Erie phosphorus loads have been reduced by about 50 percent, with most of the reductions achieved through better treatment of municipal sewage sources.
Unfortunately, billions of dollars more are needed to upgrade aging systems and bring communities into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Due to combined sanitary and separate sanitary sewer overflows, raw sewage containing nutrients and phosphorus is still being discharged into our rivers and lakes. This is a serious problem and we must find a way to address it.
That is why I introduced legislation in both the 106th and 107th Congresses to reauthorize the highly successful, but undercapitalized, Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund program (SRF) at a level of $3 billion per year for five years. In recent years, Congress has provided $1.35 billion to the SRF program. Although $3 billion a year certainly is not enough to take care of this nearly trillion dollar problem, it’s a good start.
I am also a cosponsor of two additional bills designed to protect the Great Lakes. The first, the Great Lakes Ecology Protection Act would help prevent the introduction of aquatic nuisance species in the Great Lakes by regulating vessels that enter the Great Lakes after having operated outside the waters of the U.S. The second, the Great Lakes Legacy Act, would authorize $250 million in grants to states to clean up contaminated “Areas of Concern,” such as the Maumee, Black, Ashtabula, and Cuyahoga Rivers in Ohio.
As you know well, Lake Erie is Ohio=s greatest natural asset. It’s a major supply of drinking water, a recreational resource, a fishery, and a source for transportation. Lake Erie has an enormous, positive impact on the economy, environment, and quality of life in Ohio.
I have been able to see firsthand the tremendous impact Lake Erie’s revival has had not only on the ecology of the lake, but also on Ohio’s economy. When you look back 40 years to the time when the lake was dying and look at what it is now, you cannot help but appreciate the impact of Lake Erie on Ohio. We cannot let anything diminish or set us back in our efforts to maintain and improve Lake Erie’s water quality. From the testimony submitted for today’s hearing, I am very concerned that we may be on the edge of sliding behind rather than moving ahead.
That is why we are here today - to discuss increasingly extensive oxygen depletion – or anoxia – in Lake Erie’s central basin.
The existence of this “dead zone” phenomenon is deeply troubling. As you know, anoxia over the long term could result in massive fish kills, toxic algae blooms, and bad-tasting or bad-smelling water.
In order to better understand this occurrence in Lake Erie and determine what, if anything, can or should be done to prevent dead zones in the future, we must conduct extensive research.
I look forward to hearing more about the research being conducted in Lake Erie and determining whether any funds are being provided by the Great Lakes or Lake Erie Protection Funds. If I can be of any assistance in obtaining funds from these sources, I would be happy to help.
In addition, U.S. EPA’s research vessel, the Lake Guardian, which we toured earlier, has been collecting data on Lake Erie this summer.
Recently, I wrote to Governor Bob Taft to express my concern about dead zones in Lake Erie. Last week, I received a very informative response describing the state’s efforts to address this new challenge, which I will make part of the hearing record.
For example, the Lake Erie Protection Fund, which I created as Governor, has given high priority to funding projects that seek to understand changes to the lake over the past decade, including the impact of zebra mussels. To date, the Fund has invested $1.5 million in 10 projects that directly assess issues related to oxygen depletion.
I also requested that a provision be included in WRDA 2002 to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to study and report on water quality and environmental quality problems throughout the waters of Lake Erie resulting from the formation of dead zones.
Again, my sincere appreciation to all of you for participating in this morning’s hearing. Although my opening statement is long, I am eager to hear your testimony, and I look forward to having an informative discussion with you on this important issue affecting Ohio’s Great Lake.