Hearings - Testimony
 
Full Committee Hearing
Great Lakes Regional Collaboration’s Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes
Thursday, March 16, 2006
 
Carl Levin
United States Senator

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member. I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning on the state of Great Lakes environmental restoration.

 

The Great Lakes are vital not only to Michigan but to the nation. Roughly one-tenth of the U.S. population lives in the Great Lakes basin and depends daily on the lakes. The Great Lakes provide drinking water to 33 million people. They provide the Great Lakes states= largest recreational resource. They form the largest body of freshwater in the world, containing roughly 18 percent of the world=s freshwater. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water. They are critical for our economy by helping move natural resources to the factory and to move products to market.

Yet the Great Lakes are not being protected as they should be.

Those of us who have lived near the Great Lakes have seen many changes over the years. We have seen water levels rise and fall, water quality improve and decline, and fish populations grow and fall. Some of these changes are part of a natural cycle, but many are the direct result of our management policies.

While the environmental protections that were put in place in the early 1970s have helped the Lakes make strides toward recovery, a 2003 GAO report made clear that there is much work still to do. That report stated: "Despite early success in improving conditions in the Great Lakes Basin, significant environmental challenges remain, including increased threats from invasive species and cleanup of areas contaminated with toxic substances that pose human health threats." The Great Lakes problems have been well-known for several years. The region has invested in Lakewide Management Plans; Remedial Action Plans; the U.S. Policy Committee's AGreat Lakes Strategy 2002;@ we have a strategic vision for our fisheries; and now we have the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration strategy which was the result of a presidential Executive Order.

I am delighted that a wide-ranging, very inclusive group has been formedBthe Healing Our Waters Coalition whose whole purpose is restoring the Great Lakes.

So I am very disappointed that the President did not include funding in the proposed budget to implement the recommendations of the Regional Collaboration strategy, the process that the President started with his 2004 Executive Order. The strategy recommendations totaled $20.1 billion over 5 years of which $10.5 billion would be new federal funding. That funding, as the strategy pointed out, is needed in the Great Lakes now to address so many things.

When you compare the funding between the Everglades and the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes receive about half of what the Everglades receive in federal funding.

Invasive species are one of the largest threats to the Great Lakes. A new species is introduced into the Great Lakes about every 8 months. They enter the lakes in ballast tanks, on boat trailers, and through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. We need ballast technology on ships entering the Great Lakes and programs to address other pathways of introduction. Legislation is sitting before Congress that would reduce this threat and make a significant impact on the Great Lakes and all of our waters, but we have failed to act for four years.

Last year, Senator DeWine and I introduced the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act to take the strong and swift action that is necessary. Our bill would increase available funding for the lakes, improve coordination of federal programs, and establish a monitoring program to help us make decisions on how to steer future restoration efforts.

Today, we join some of our House colleagues in releasing an outline for a new restoration bill, based on the recommendations from the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration strategy. This bill would reduce the threat of new invasive species by enacting comprehensive invasive species legislation and put ballast technology on board ships; it specifically targets Asian carp by authorizing the operation and maintenance of the dispersal barrier. The bill would restore fish and wildlife habitat by reauthorizing the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. It would provide additional resources to states and cities for their water infrastructure. It would provide additional funding for contaminated sediment cleanup and provides the EPA with additional tools under the Great Lakes Legacy Act to move projects along faster. The bill would create a new grant program to phase-out mercury in products. It would authorize additional research through existing federal establishments as well as our non-federal research institutions. And it would authorize coordination of federal programs.

Mr. Chairman, the Great Lakes are a unique American treasure. If you were to stand on the moon, you could see the Great Lakes and recognize the outline of Michigan bounded by the lakes. We must recognize that we are only their temporary stewards.

If Congress does not act to keep pace with the needs of the lakes, the current problems will continue to build, and we may start to undo some of the good work that has already been done. We must be good stewards by ensuring that the federal government meets its ongoing obligation to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

Thank you.

 

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