O P E N I N G   S T A T E M E N T

Senator George V. Voinovich

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

 

Hearing to examine the current and future efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes

Cleveland, Ohio

Monday, August 25, 2003

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The hearing will come to order.  Good morning and thank you for coming.  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 examine the current and future efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

 

Second, I thank Chairman Jim Inhofe for calling this hearing at my request.  I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the Committee and the House and Senate in advancing legislation to address what I believe is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing our nation – restoration of the Great Lakes.  Thank you also to the staff of Senator Inhofe and Senator Jeffords that made the trip up here from Washington.  I appreciate your assistance in putting this hearing together.

 

While restoration is important to the plants and animals that call it home and to the 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada that depend on it for drinking water, it is also important to the economy and people’s jobs.  The Great Lakes region maintains the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world with the primary economic activities in recreation and tourism, shipping, agriculture, and manufacturing.

 

In terms of tourism, the eight Great Lakes states have about 3.7 million registered recreational boats, or about a third of the nation’s total.  Retail expenditures for recreational boating in the Great Lakes region is over $2.6 billion annually, slightly less than one-third of national expenditures in this category.  The Great Lakes commercial and sport fishery alone is valued at more than $4 billion annually.  It has been estimated that tourism in the Lake Erie area accounts for an estimated $1.5 billion in retail sales and more than 50,000 jobs.  While I was Governor, Ohio moved from sixth to seventh in travel and tourism and Lake Erie was a major reason for this improvement.

 

Businesses also rely on the Great Lakes because, among other things, they provide an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly means of transportation.  In 2000, this system provided an estimated $1.2 billion in transportation cost savings to steel mills, utilities, grain terminals, and other key industries located near the 16 major U.S. ports in the system.  These industries provide more than 37,000 direct jobs and are able to compete in the world economy because they can keep transportation costs low.

 


About one-third of the land in the Great Lakes basin is used for agriculture, supporting about 7 percent of U.S. agricultural production.  One-fifth of U.S. manufacturing activity is based on the Great Lakes, and the region, combined with Canada, accounts for about 60 percent of steel production in North America.

 

Over the last century, these activities have been both a detriment to this resource and a blessing for the people in the region.  Regardless of the past, restoration of the Great Lakes benefits both.

 

Today’s hearing may seem like déjà vu to some of you.  One year ago, I held another field hearing in Cleveland at the Coast Guard station, which is about a stone’s throw away from here also on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie.  The purpose of that hearing was to look into the re-occurrence of dead zones or low oxygen areas in Lake Erie.

 

I am pleased that Dr. Jeff Reutter of the Ohio Sea Grant Program, who I have been out to see at Stone Lab on Gibralter Island, was able to testify at that hearing and is here today to provide an update on this situation and the water quality of Lake Erie.  He is one of the premier scientists working on Ohio’s Great Lake, and I welcome him to today’s hearing.

 

Also on the second panel is Ms. Elaine Marsh from Great Lakes United, who testified at last year’s field hearing as well.  Great Lakes United is a U.S. and Canadian coalition dedicated to preserving and restoring the Great Lakes.  Last month, the organization testified at a hearing that I held as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management in the Governmental Affairs Committee on the management of Great Lakes programs.

 

I met with Ms. Marsh and several of her colleagues before the hearing on a report they released earlier this year on how to cleanup the Great Lakes.  I look forward to hearing from her this morning on the coalition’s recommendations on how to move forward in restoring the Great Lakes.

 

I also welcome on our second panel Mr. Sam Speck, who is Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Chair of the Great Lakes Commission.  Mr. Speck will be providing the Committee with an update on his work to implement a binding agreement between Canada and the U.S. on a standard for making decisions on proposals to export water out of the Great Lakes.  Sam and I have been long time friends since we were in the legislature together.  We worked together to create the Ohio EPA and Ohio’s model reclamation law.

 

Dr. Roy Stein, who is Vice-Chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and is also Director of the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory at the Ohio State University, will also testify on the second panel about invasive species and the state of the fisheries in the Great Lakes.

 

Lastly, I welcome the two witnesses we have for our first panel, Mr. Tom Skinner and Colonel William Ryan, who both testified at the hearing that I chaired last month on Great Lakes programs.  Mr. Skinner is the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office Manager and Colonel Ryan is the Deputy Commander of the Great Lakes Ohio River Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  They will both be providing information on our current restoration efforts and their thoughts on where we need to go from here to restore the Great Lakes.


While today is in many ways a follow-up to the hearings I held last year here in Cleveland and last month in the Governmental Affairs Committee, I think of it as just one more step toward my lifetime goal of restoring the Great Lakes.

 

Thirty-seven years ago, when I saw firsthand the effects of pollution on Lake Erie and the surrounding region, I knew we had to do more to protect our environment.  At the time, Lake Erie was suffering from eutrophication and was known worldwide as a dying lake.  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 sent a film crew to make a documentary about it.

 

I made a commitment then, as a state legislator, to do everything possible to stop the deterioration of the Lake and to wage what I refer to as the “Second Battle of Lake Erie” – to reclaim and restore Ohio’s Great Lake.

 

I have continued this fight throughout my career – as State Legislator, County Commissioner, Lieutenant Governor, Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and now United States Senator.  I consider my efforts to preserve and protect Lake Erie and all of the Great Lakes to be among the most significant of my career and of my life.

 

One of my first actions as a state legislator was to introduce a resolution calling for a $360 million bond issue for municipal sewage treatment plant construction along Lake Erie.  I also cosponsored the creation of the Ohio Water Development Commission to help industries eliminate pollution from our rivers and lakes, formed a legislature committee on Lake Erie that was responsible for stopping four states from going forward with exploratory drilling in Lake Erie, and 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.  Since I sponsored the legislation to create the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, I am known as the “House Father” of the Ohio EPA.

 

Moreover, because of concern that the environment was not getting the attention it deserved, I worked to convince the Speaker of the Ohio House to create an Environment Committee, of which I was the first vice-chairman.

 

When I became a County Commissioner for Cuyahoga County in 1977, I helped stop the Energy Department from considering using the salt mines under Lake Erie as a storage area for nuclear waste.

 

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, we 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.

 

Due to my concern that baseline information had not been established to document where we started or to track the progress we had made, in 1998, we released the Lake Erie Water Quality Index to quantify the results of our efforts to clean up Lake Erie.  Ten indicators were developed to provide a baseline on which to measure our progress and identify challenges for the future.

 

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 is comforting to me that 37 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 and restore 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.

 

One of the initiatives I authored is the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program, which authorized 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.

 

Last year, I cosponsored the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which was signed into law in 2002, to authorize $50 million per year for five years for the clean up of contaminated sediments at Areas of Concern, such as the Maumee, Black, Cuyahoga, and Ashtabula Rivers in Ohio.  While I was pleased that the President provided $15 million in his FY2004 budget for this program, I recently wrote the Appropriations Committee requesting that the program be fully funded so that we can make real progress toward cleaning up these persistent problem areas in the Great Lakes.

 

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, the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie has been reduced by about 50 percent, with most of the reductions achieved through better treatment of municipal sewage sources and eliminating phosphates in detergents. 

 

Unfortunately, billions of dollars more are needed to upgrade aging systems and bring communities into compliance with the Clean Water Act.  That is why I introduced legislation in the 106TH, 107TH, and 108TH Congresses to reauthorize the highly successful, but undercapitalized, Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund program at a level of $3 billion per year for five years.


Just last week, on Thursday, I was honored by the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies with the National Environmental Public Service Award for 2003.  Let me quote from the nomination and introduction that I received for the award:

 

“Over the last three years, Senator Voinovich has been an active member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has used this role to bring attention to the nation’s wastewater infrastructure needs…Senator Voinovich believes that preserving the quality of our streams, rivers, and lakes from wastewater pollutants comes down to a question of our commitment to funding.  Senator Voinovich should be honored for his ongoing support of and commitment to wastewater infrastructure funding…Clean water is ever in the forefront of his efforts for Ohioans and Americans.”

 

During this Congress, I have been working hard with my colleagues on several initiatives.  Continuing my efforts as a state legislator, I sponsored an amendment that was included in the fiscal year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act to extend the current moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes for two years until the end of FY2005.

 

Additionally, I am pleased that the President signed a bill earlier this year that I introduced to expand the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Ohio and the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Michigan along the coast of Lake Erie.

 

Responding to the hearing last August on dead zones, I introduced a bill to reauthorize the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act and expand it to include the Great Lakes, not just coastal marine waters.  I then worked with the members of the Commerce Committee to include my provisions to create a Great Lakes research program in a bill they recently passed.

 

I have also cosponsored the Great Lakes Water Quality Indicators and Monitoring Act (S. 116) to expand the Index that I created as Governor to measure water quality in Lake Erie to cover all of the Great Lakes.

 

Furthermore, I am continuing to fight against the aquatic invasive species that are wreaking havoc in the Great Lakes.  These aquatic terrorists are entering this great natural resource in the ballast water of boats from all over the world, and they must be stopped.  That is why I have cosponsored the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (S. 525) to help protect the Great Lakes from these species.  In June of this year, I participated in a hearing on this bill, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to take action on this costly problem.

 

Still, there is much more that needs to be done to improve and protect the Great Lakes.  I emphasize that this is an urgent need that deserves and demands a well-coordinated effort, one that cannot be met by simply adding individual programs to those that already exist.

 


The GAO made it clear in its report – released earlier this year entitled: “An Overall Strategy and Indicators for Measuring Progress Are Needed to Better Achieve Restoration Goals” – that the number of programs is not the problem.   Rather, the report states that while there are many federal, state, and local programs, restoration of the Great Lakes is being hindered because there is little coordination and no unified strategy for these activities.

 

Responding to the GAO report and to my long held concerns about Great Lakes restoration, I recently cosponsored the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration, Protection, and Recovery Act (S. 1398).  In short, this bill moves us closer toward our goal of restoring the Great Lakes by providing funding and promoting coordination.

 

As some of you may know, I was intimately involved in the creation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.  As Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, I was proud to sponsor WRDA 2000, which approved this ambitious Plan.  Earlier this year, I spoke at the 11TH Annual Everglades Coalition Conference in Florida, and I told them: “What I would love to do as Senator is to be able to put the same kind of coalition together that you’ve been able to do for the Everglades for the Great Lakes.”  This is my dream.

 

Right now, we have many groups – governors, mayors, environmental groups, Congress, and others – that are all working separately on proposals and priorities to restore the Great Lakes.  However, the fact of the matter is that if we are going to get something done, we need to create a symbiotic relationship with all of the public and private players in the U.S. and Canada in order to develop a comprehensive restoration plan for the Great Lakes.

 

This Plan is absolutely essential if we expect to continue to restore and improve one of the world’s great treasures.  From a selfish point of view, this plan would be the capstone of my legacy to Lake Erie and more importantly to my children and grandchildren and yours.

 

Again, my sincere appreciation to all of you for participating in this morning’s hearing.  I look forward to hearing about some of our current efforts and to having an informative discussion with you on the very important issue of restoring the Great Lakes.

 

Thank you.

 

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