Levin introduces Great Lakes bill
Statement on Senate Floor
Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer (MI) on March 9, 2007
Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce the "Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act" with Senator George Voinovich and our co-sponsors. I also want to thank Representatives Vern Ehlers and Rahm Emanuel for introducing similar Great Lakes restoration legislation in the House today.
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 40 million people. They provide the largest recreational resource for their 8 neighboring states. They form the largest body of freshwater in the world, containing roughly 18 percent of the world's total; only the polar ice caps contain more freshwater. They are critical for our economy by helping move natural resources to the factory and to move products to market.
While the environmental protections that were put in place in the early 1970s have helped the Great 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." More recently, many scientists reported that the Great Lakes are exhibiting signs of stress due to a combination of sources, including toxic contaminants, invasive species, nutrient loading, shoreline and upland land use changes, and hydrologic modifications. A 2005 report from a group of Great Lakes scientific experts states that "historical sources of stress have combined with new ones to reach a tipping point, the point at which ecosystem-level changes occur rapidly and unexpectedly, confounding the traditional relationships between sources of stress and the expected ecosystem response."
The zebra mussel, an aquatic invasive species, caused $3 billion in economic damage to the Great Lakes from 1993 to 2003. In 2000, seven people died after pathogens entered the Walkerton, Ontario drinking water supply from the lakes. In May of 2004, more than ten billion gallons of raw sewage and storm water 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. There is no appreciable natural reproduction of lake trout in the lower four lakes. More than half of the Great Lakes region's original wetlands have been lost, along with 60% of the forests. Wildlife habitat has been destroyed, thus diminishing opportunities necessary for fishing, hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation.
The Great Lakes problems have been well known for several years, and, in 2005, 1,500 people through the Great Lakes region worked together to compile recommendations for restoring the lakes. These recommendations were released in December 2005, and, today, I am introducing this legislation to implement many of those recommendations.
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 improvement, operation and maintenance of the dispersal barrier. The bill would improve fish and wildlife habitat by providing additional resources to states and cities for water infrastructure. It would provide additional funding for contaminated sediment cleanup and would give the EPA 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 and to identify emerging contaminants. The bill would authorize the restoration and remediation of our waterfronts. It would authorize additional research through existing federal programs 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. We must recognize that we are only their temporary stewards. If Congress does not act to keep pace with the needs of the lakes, and the tens of millions of Americans dependent upon them and affected by their condition, 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. This legislation will help us meet that great responsibility to future generations.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of my remarks appears in the Record alongside the introduction of the bill.