Bill fizzled, but carp problem addressed
President Obama"s 2008 campaign promise to push for the Great Lakes Collaboration and Implementation Act brought Great Lakes Restoration efforts back onto the national scene. Environmentalists hoped the promise would lead to increased funding for the Great Lakes would lead to substantial improvements in restoration programs.
According the the EPA, more than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes basin. But the region has been affected by chemical pollution and the spread of invasive species in the lakes.
The Great Lakes Collaboration and Implementation Act was proposed in order to reduce the impact of invasive species in the lake, help native fish and wildlife, and improve water quality by removing sediments and pollutants.
Nearly four years later, the bill has made little progress. The Great Lakes Collaboration and Implementation Act itself was a compilation of reauthorizations for existing Great Lakes programs.
The bill would have also created a Great Lakes interagency task force and increased regional collaboration on Great Lakes issues.
As we mentioned in our previous update, the bill died in Congress, but Obama managed to act on the bill"s goals through temporary funding.
Chad Lord, water program director at NPCA who is also the policy director for the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, said that President Obama has tried to implement aspects of the proposed legislation by requesting additional resources for selected projects.
President Obama has specifically recommended additional spending on sewage infrastructure in the Great Lakes region, and has increased funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which funds water quality protection projects.
The Obama Administration has also launched a "comprehensive Asian Carp control strategy” that includes 45 different initiatives that stop the fish from ever entering the lakes while also targeting and eliminating existing carp populations.
Obama has dedicated $1.3 billion for Great Lakes restoration in the past four years.
At present, Great Lakes funding hinges on Obama"s commitment. Great Lakes advocates told us they would prefer a bill that guarantees funding instead of relying on the support of the current administration.
Aside from simply appropriating funds, President Obama has taken further action by appointing a Great Lakes Coordinator who coordinates the restoration efforts across more than a dozen federal agencies, local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
President Obama has also proposed nominations to a Great Lakes advisory board through the EPA, which actually would have been created by the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act if it had passed through Congress.
Obama sought to get a law passed, and failed. He then used temporary funding to restore the Great Lakes during his administration. We rate this a Compromise.
White House Website, "Protecting Our Great Lakes From Asian Carp,” accessed Sept. 18, 2012
EPA website, "Clean Water State Revolving Fund,” Sept. 18, 2012
Interview with Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, Sept. 14, 2012
Interview with Chad Lord, water program director at NPCA, policy director for Healing Our Waters- Great Lakes Coalition, Sept. 18, 2012
Office of Management and Budget, Budget Document for Fiscal Year 2013
Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan FY 2010-FY 2014,Sept. 15, 2012
Great Lakes bills die, funding decreases
House and Senate versions of a bill that would create the Great Lakes Collaboration — a bill for which President Obama promised to lobby — died in committee with the close of the 111th Congress.
The proposed Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act (S. 237) would have provided funding for a number of Great Lakes programs, established four Great Lakes committees and programs and required the president to submit a plan for Great Lakes research with his annual budget.
Great Lakes "czar" Cameron Davis, appointed by the president in June 2009 as a senior adviser on Great Lakes issues to the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, said the administration does not have immediate plans to propose similar legislation in the 112th Congress.
"A main purpose of the legislative commitment at the time it was made was to ensure significant funding for the Great Lakes,” Davis wrote in an e-mail. "The administration has fulfilled its commitment by proposing significant funding every year.”
Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., introduced in January bills that incorporate a small piece of the failed Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act. The bills, both titled the Great Lakes Water Protection Act (H.R. 425 and S. 147), would set a deadline to restrict sewage dumping into the Great Lakes and would establish the Great Lakes Cleanup Fund. They were referred to committees in the House and Senate, respectively, and haven"t seen action since.
The president sliced funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to $350 million — a $125 million decrease from enacted FY 2010 levels — in his FY 2012 budget. A continuing appropriations act (H.R. 1) that passed the House in February 2011, offers $225 million in FY 2011 for the initiative, a coordinated federal effort by 11 department-level agencies in FY 2010-2014.
But the cuts could slow progress that was being made in the region through GLRI grants for projects designed to maintain the health of the lakes, said Allegra Cangelosi, the president of the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a research organization that promotes 18 states in the Northeast and Midwest.
"There is huge productivity going on as a result of that initiative,” Cangelosi said. "There"s a lot of person power involved in remediating the lakes.”
Davis disagreed and said the 2009 stimulus package provided infrastructure funding for sewage treatment facilities and roadwork around the Great Lakes that boosts the funding levels.
"The president has proposed healthy funding levels to keep restoring the Great Lakes,” he said. "We can scale and time our projects to get the most impact.”
This means prioritizing projects such as preventing Asian carp from establishing themselves in the Great Lakes and cleaning up toxic areas that have plagued the lakes for two decades, Davis said. The administration has not yet identified specific initiatives that would be cut because of reduced funding.
These grants — up to $40 million total — go to states, local entities and non-profit organizations that submit proposals outlining a project that will restore the lakes. But awarding the grants, Davis cautioned, is dependent on Congress passing a budget for FY 2011.
Together, cutbacks in funding and no pending legislation counter smaller ongoing initiatives to clean up the Great Lakes, leading us to move this promise to Stalled.
Phone and e-mail interviews with Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Phone interview with Allegra Cangelosi, the president of the Northeast-Midwest Institute
Phone interview with Colleen Cain, senior policy analyst at the Northeast-Midwest Institute
FY 2012 budget documents, White House website
Environmental Protection Agency website
Great Lakes restoration gets a boost
Help for the Great Lakes was part of President Barack Obama's campaign platform.
As a candidate, Obama promised to "push for the passage of the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, which will move us past playing defense against environmental problems and toward a comprehensive restoration of the Great Lakes."
He's making progress. Legislation to create the Great Lakes Collaboration, a coalition dedicated to coordinating efforts to clean up the lakes, has been introduced in both the House, where it's sponsored by Republican Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, and in the Senate, where it was introduced by Democrat Carl Levin, also from Michigan.
Neither bill has seen any action, but Obama has taken other steps to improve the lakes, which largely run along the Canada-U.S. border.
In his fiscal 2010 budget, Obama included $475 million to create a new Great Lakes restoration initiative. And in June, 2009, he appointed Cameron Davis, president of a Chicago environmentalist group, to oversee the administration"s initiative to clean up the Great Lakes.
That said, this particular promise focused on the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act. It's been introduced but hasn't come up for a vote. For now, we rate it In the Works.
govtrack.us, S.237: Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act of 2009 , accessed Sept. 30, 2009
Chicago Sun Times, Obama names Chicago environmentalist as Great Lakes czar , June 4, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, $475 million in plan for Great Lakes , by Dan Egan, Feb. 26, 2009