Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning. It’s good to see such a strong showing of Great Lakes supporters.
The Great Lakes are a unique natural resource that need to be protected for future generations. They hold one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater, and cover more than 94,000 square miles. Over 100 species in the Basin are globally rare or found only in the Great Lakes Basin. The 637 state parks in the region accommodate more than 250 million visitors each year. The Great Lakes are significant to the states and Canadian provinces that border them as well as to the millions of other people around the country who fish in the lakes, visit the parks surrounding the lakes, or use products that are affordably shipped to them via the Lakes.
Unfortunately, the Great Lakes remain in a degraded state. A 2005 report from a group of scientific experts says that historical threats are combining with new ones, and the result is that the Lakes are at a tipping point. We need to act now.
You cannot see the threats to the Lakes just by looking at them. Zebra mussels -- an aquatic invasive species -- cause $500 million per year in damages in the Great Lakes. One study found that since 1990, Lake Michigan’s yellow perch population has decreased by about 80%! In May of 2004, more than 10 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater were dumped into the Great Lakes. In that same year, over 1,850 beaches in the Great Lakes were closed. Each summer, Lake Erie develops a 6,300 square mile dead zone. And, more than half of the Great Lakes region’s original wetlands have been lost, along with 60% of the forests.
Because of these threats and with encouragement from those of us in the Great Lakes region, the President issued an Executive Order in 2004, calling for a Great Lakes Regional Collaboration of National Significance. This process brought together experts who adopted a set of recommendations for federal, state, tribal, and local actions. Using those recommendations, Senator Carl Levin and I, as well as our colleagues in the House, will introduce a bill to implement those recommendations:
Our bill would do several things:
* It would reduce the threat of non-native species invading the Lakes through ballast water. The bill targets the Asian carp and would authorize the Corps of Engineers to improve the dispersal barrier project and prohibit the importation or interstate commerce of live Asian carp.
* It would address threats to fish and wildlife habitat by reauthorizing the Great Lakes Fish & Wildlife Restoration Act at $20 million, a program that provides grants to states and tribes.
* The bill would reauthorize the State Revolving Loan Fund and provide $20 billion over five years to assist communities with improving their wastewater infrastructure.
* It would authorize $150 million per year for contaminated sediment cleanup under the Great Lakes Legacy program and provide the EPA with greater flexibility in implementing the program
* The bill would establish a new grant program to phase-out mercury in products, and it would improve existing research programs and fill the gap where work is needed.
* Finally, the bill would establish the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration process to coordinate and improve Great Lakes programs.
Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is a perfect opportunity to bring attention to one of our Nation’s natural treasures and the resources that needed to keep the Great Lakes protected for future generations. Through the work of the Great Lakes Task Force and the efforts of other members, like you, in holding these hearings, we have been able to make positive changes on the Lakes. Unfortunately, more work is needed. I hope that this Committee is able to move legislation that will help protect and restore the Great Lakes because the Lakes need attention and action now. Thank you.