Mr. Chairman, thank you for agreeing to bring restoration of the Great Lakes to the full Committee’s attention. It has been a lifelong commitment for me.
It is a great pleasure to hold this hearing and continue what I call the “Second Battle of Lake Erie” to reclaim and restore Ohio’s Great Lake. I made a commitment to this fight nearly four decades ago as a state legislator and have continued it throughout my career. Considering that Lake Erie was once known as an international symbol of pollution and environmental degradation, it is remarkable the progress that has been made to clean it up.
The improvement of the Great Lakes is a testament to the dedication of numerous officials and groups in the region that have focused on this resource – but our work is not done. This effort has not gained the attention nationally or internationally that it deserves and needs.
Shared by eight U.S. states and one Canadian province, the Great Lakes watershed is the largest system of surface freshwater in the world. They support a wide array of wildlife and provide over 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada with drinking water, recreation, and much more. Approximately 60 percent of U.S. manufacturing is contained within the Great Lakes region. The commercial and sport fishing industry alone contributes over $4 billion annually to the nation’s economy.
A prime example of a regional issue that gained national significance is the Florida Everglades. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I had the distinct pleasure of working on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. I learned from this experience that restoration requires that stakeholders have a symbiotic relationship. The Everglades plan became a reality only after everyone came together and made it a national ecological restoration project.
A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) clearly pointed out that this had yet to occur for the Great Lakes. Two main barriers to Great Lakes restoration were identified: lack of coordination and no strategy. I held two hearings on how to address these issues, including a field hearing by this Committee in Cleveland in August 2003.
These hearings convinced me that leadership was desperately needed. I personally lobbied President Bush and he responded. In May 2004, he signed an Executive Order officially recognizing the Great Lakes as a national treasure and addressing the problems identified by GAO. The Order created the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force with EPA as the chair to bring together 10 agencies and over 140 Great Lakes federal programs. Additionally, it called for the federal government to partner with state, local, tribal, and other interests in the region to establish a “regional collaboration of national significance.”
The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration met in Chicago in December 2004 and returned only one year later to release a strategy to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Our long and illustrious list of witnesses testifying today is representative of the over 1,500 people who worked in eight issue-specific strategy teams ranging from aquatic invasive species to toxic pollutants.
I welcome all of our witnesses who have taken time out of their very busy schedules to be with us. I also thank the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute for including this hearing on the agenda for their annual “Great Lakes Day.”
While I am interested to hear how the Collaboration’s strategy will guide future restoration activities, I am particularly interested in two key points as we move forward. First, we need to examine the management of what is the biggest restoration project in the world. Who is the “orchestra leader”? How do we best coordinate an eight state, binational effort? Second, we must consider fiscal realities. What do we need to do in terms of new and existing programs at the international, federal, state, and local levels to get the biggest bang for our buck?
The Great Lakes are near and dear to my heart. I consider my battle 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. A lot of great work has been done, and we must continue to work together if we are going to truly implement the restoration strategy. The decisions that we make today will determine the longevity of this national treasure that is so important to public health, the environment, our economy, and our children and grandchildren.
Again, thank you Chairman Inhofe for allowing me to hold this hearing. Thank you also to all of our witnesses. I look forward to hearing from you.