Great Lakes need restoration
By U.S. Reps. Peter Hoekstra and Rahm Emanuel
Lake effect snow aside, this time of year the Great Lakes
do not receive all that much attention. But for those
of us working to pass landmark Great Lakes environmental
restoration legislation, they never lose our focus.
More than 30 years after the Clean Water Act was passed,
invasive species, toxic contamination and pollution run-off
continue to dampen the prognosis for the Great Lakes.
Still, 2003 represented an outstanding year. In July,
we introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act
of 2003 with a broad bipartisan coalition.
The legislation authorizes $4 billion in block grants
over five years to invest in cleaning up toxic hot spots,
combating invasive species, controlling nonpoint source
pollution and restoring and conserving wetlands and critical
coastal habitat. The funding would be allocated using
a formula that takes into account criteria such as population,
exposure to the Great Lakes watershed, number of "areas
of concern" and critical habitat.
It also creates a Great Lakes advisory board of federal
representatives, governors, mayors and leaders in the
scientific and environmental communities that would develop
a comprehensive Great Lakes management plan.
The same day that we introduced the Great Lakes Restoration
Financing Act in the House, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.,
and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, introduced similar legislation
in the Senate.
Today more than 105 members in the House and eight senators
have co-sponsored the two pieces of legislation. All eight
governors from states bordering the Great Lakes have endorsed
the plan, and the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, a consortium
of mayors from towns along the Great Lakes, has come on
board as well.
Combine this with the incredible support of environmental
and fishing and hunting groups, and it is fair to say
the lakes have not witnessed such strong support in recent
However, we have several goals we must accomplish in
2004 to make this legislation a reality:
* No. 1: Preserve the coalition. From day one, we set
out to gather a Democrat and a Republican from each state
bordering the Great Lakes before introducing the bill,
and we were successful. Of the 12 Michigan members co-sponsoring
the bill, for example, six are Democrats and six are Republicans.
Roughly 28 million Americans receive their drinking water
from the Great Lakes, regardless of party affiliation.
Only with strong bipartisan backing will the Great Lakes
receive the attention that they need.
* No. 2: Work with the White House to pass the bill.
The Great Lakes account for 18 percent of the surface
freshwater on the planet and 90 percent of the surface
freshwater in the United States. They are an invaluable
resource jeopardized by myriad threats. Nonpoint source
pollution degrades water quality, and invasive species
such as the zebra mussel and sea lamprey have devastated
the ecology of the Lakes.
More than 1,500 fish consumption advisories have been
issued on the Great Lakes, and beach closings have increased
every year since the early 1990s. There were a record
919 beach closings in 2002 on Lake Michigan alone.
The Great Lakes face critical challenges, but we have
an opportunity to pass monumental legislation that will
set them on the path toward recovery. However, this bill
will not advance without the support of the administration.
We know that President Bush is interested, but we need
to ensure that his administration is fully engaged and
fully dedicated to Great Lakes restoration.
We will continue to solicit the presidentís support,
and we are confident that he will join us in this crucial
* No. 3: Secure the funding. To receive congressional
funding, Congress must first authorize a project. The
Great Lakes Restoration Financing Act provides the authorization,
but once it passes, we need to ensure that it receives
the necessary appropriations. It is the final stage in
which good programs often fall short.
Our coalition has already sent a letter to the president
requesting that he include funding for restoration in
his 2005 budget request, and we will continue to work
to ensure that programs established under the Great Lakes
Financing Act receive proper funding.
Great Lakes restoration ranks high among the several
challenges and opportunities facing Congress. Last year
was a great year for the lakes because it allowed us to
build a base of support. In the next year, we must work
just as hard to finish the job of protecting and restoring
the grandeur of this incredible treasure.