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.