New Law Would Authorize, Fund Great Lakes' Cleanup

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) joined Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on March 4 to introduce the Great Lakes Environmental Protection Act (S. 3073), which would reaffirm Congress' commitment to the groundbreaking Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and continued cleanup of Lake Erie.

Lake Erie, the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, is home to more than half the lake system's fish. Millions of people visit Lake Erie, spending an estimated $1.1 billion a year on lodging, travel and food specifically to catch sport fish like walleye and perch. In total, the lake is estimated to generate $50 billion in economic activity each year.

The bill authorizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the appropriation of $475 million per year. The GLRI is an EPA-led, interagency effort to target the most significant problems in the region and jumpstart restoration efforts to protect, maintain, and restore the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes. This legislation would authorize the GLRI and direct that recommendations of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy of 2005 and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan be considered by the EPA, which determines fund allocation. President Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget provides $475 million for the program.

The bill would establish an inaugural two-tiered advisory group to EPA. The Great Lakes Leadership Council (GLLC) would consist of federal agencies, state and local governments and other stakeholders. It would approve long-term and annual goals; report progress to Congress, the president, and the public; organize participation in international forums; and make budget recommendations.

The Great Lakes Management Committee (GLMC) reports to the GLLC and provides recommendations. Members of the GLMC are representatives of the four governmental groups in the GLLC along with one representative from the IJC, GLFC, industry, environment, agriculture, and the science/academic community. The GLMC directs the planning, assessment, and reporting efforts, tracks and implements plans, and engages in trouble shooting.

This bill would reauthorize Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) for $25 million in funding for the next five years. The EPA's GNLPO handles Great Lakes issues including the GLRI, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Great Lakes Legacy Program, Remedial Action Plans at Areas of Concern and Lakewide Management Plans along with its currently authorized grant program. The GLNPO authorization expired in 2008.

The bill would reauthorize the Legacy Program for 5 years and increase its funding level from $54 million to $150 million per year. The Legacy Program, first authorized in 2002, has seen success in removing contaminated sediment from the "U.S. Areas of Concern." In 2008, the Legacy Program was reauthorized for 2 years. This increase was recommended by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy Report so that the contamination at the designated Areas of Concern would be removed within 10 years.

The bill would reauthorize the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force (IATF) in its present capacity. Eleven U.S. cabinet and federal agency officials collaborate through the IATF to coordinate restoration of the Great Lakes. The IATF, created in 2004 by Executive Order, helps the federal agencies to coordinate more regularly.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Richard Durbin (D- Ill.) are also cosponsors of S. 3073.

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