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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S 1398

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Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. DEWINE (for himself, Mr. LEVIN, Mr. VOINOVICH, Ms. STABENOW, Mr. COLEMAN, Mr. DURBIN, Mrs. CLINTON, and Mr. SCHUMER):

    S. 1398. A bill to provide for the environmental restoration of the Great Lakes; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

    Mr. DEWINE. Mr. President, I am proud to join my fellow Great Lakes Task Force chair, Senator CARL LEVIN, in introducing today the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act. I would like to thank our Senate cosponsors—Senators VOINOVICH, STABENOW, COLEMAN, DURBIN, SCHUMER, and CLINTON—for supporting this legislative effort.

    The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater, hold an estimated six quadrillion gallons of water, cover more than 94,000 square miles, and drain more than twice as much land. The Great Lakes ecosystem includes such diverse elements as northern evergreen forests, deciduous forests, lake plain prairies, and coastal wetlands. Over thirty of the basin's biological communities—and over 100 species—are globally rare or found only in the Great Lakes Basin. The 637 State parks in the region accommodate more than 250 million visitors each year. And, the Great Lakes Basin is home to more than 33 million people—that is one-tenth of our entire U.S. population.

    The eight Great Lakes States comprise more than one-third of the national manufacturing output, and the lakes represent a critical shipping land for these States' manufactured goods and other natural resources. Ohio's nine ports on Lake Erie annually handle 70 million tons of cargo—that is almost seven tons of cargo for every Ohio resident, with a total value of over $1.5 billion.

    My colleagues in Congress and I understand the value of the Great Lakes as a natural resource to the region, and we have been making progress in improving the overall quality of the lakes. Over the last few years, I have worked to secure $34 million for Ohio and the Great Lakes States to expand public access to the lakes. And now, I am working to address invasive species through the National Invasive Species Council Act, which I introduced, and the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act, which I cosponsored. Senator LEVIN and I have worked together as cochairs of the Great Lakes Task Force since 2000.

    We have fought to secure needed Great Lakes funding for the NOAA water level gauges, the replacement ice-breaking vessel, the Mackinaw, and sea lamprey control money for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. We both met with the U.S. Trade Representative in an effort to prevent water from the Great Lakes from being diverted abroad. And, we also worked together to authorize the Great Lakes Basin Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Program in the 2002 farm bill. Last fall, we passed the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which provides up to $50 million per year to the EPA to clean up contaminated sediments at Areas of Concern. The President provided $15 million in his fiscal year 2004 budget to get this program started.

    These steps, in conjunction with the efforts by our States, are positive, but unfortunately—based on the Federal Government's current level of funding—we are not able to keep pace with the problems facing the Great Lakes. An April 2003 GAO report found that the Federal Government has spent about $745 million over the last 10 years on Great Lakes restoration programs. Now, consider the fact that the GAO reported that the eight Great Lakes States spent $956 million during that same 10-year period. The Federal Government is simply not spending enough to protect and improve the Great Lakes—one-fifth of the world's freshwater.

    There is ample evidence to show that this current level of commitment is simply not enough. In 2001, there were nearly 600 beach closings as a result of E. colie bacteria, and State and local health authorities issued approximately 1,400 fish consumption advisories in the Great Lakes. In the years since the United States and Canada signed the Water Quality Agreement and agreed to give priority attention to the 43 designated Areas of Concern, the United States has not been able to remove any of the U.S. sites from the list of Areas of Concern.

    For several years, I have been calling for a plan to restore the lakes and have been urging the Governors, mayors, the environmental community and other regional interests to agree on a vision for the future of the Great Lakes—not just the immediate future, but many years down the road. I have said that we must work together as partners to create and implement a long-term strategy on how we are going to restore and protect the lakes and that it is time for us to come together and develop a plan and put it in place.

    This bill would build upon the efforts by the Great Lakes States, which have convened a Working Group to establish their Great Lakes goals and priorities. Many of our regional interest groups and agencies have prepared strategic plans and priorities. And, we have brought in the President's Council on Environmental Quality so that the President will better understand the value of a long-term plan for the Great Lakes. I can't emphasize how important it is to have all of these interests working toward the same goal.

    A Great Lakes restoration program must be an equal partnership between the local, State, and Federal Governments and other interested citizens and organizations. I believe that this legislation would provide the tools needed for the long-term future of the Great Lakes. First, this legislation creates a $6 billion Great Lakes restoration grant program to augment existing Federal and State efforts to cleanup, protect, and restore the Great Lakes. In the April 2003 GAO report, the GAO reported that insufficient funding is often cited as a limitation to restoration efforts. Therefore, an additional $600 million in annual funding would be appropriated through the EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office, and the Program Office would provide grants to the Great Lakes States, Municipalities, and other applicants in coordination with the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Advisory Board. This funding would provide the extra resources that existing programs do not have.

    While the Great lakes are a national and international resource, I believe that the region, not the bureaucrats in Washington, needs to be setting its priorities and guiding the future efforts on the lakes. This bill would require very close coordination between the EPA and the State and regional interests before grants are released. The Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Advisory Board, led by the Great Lakes Governors, would include mayors, Federal agencies, Native American tribes, environmentalists, industry representatives, and Canadian observers. This advisory board, which would include all of the interests in the Great Lakes, would provide priorities on restoration issues, such as invasive species control and prevention, wetlands restoration, contaminated sediments cleanup, and water quality improvements. Additionally, this advisory board would provide recommendations on which grant applications to fund. Ultimately, the input from the advisory board would mean that the region would be involved in determining the long-term future of the Great Lakes.

    As the April 2003 GAO study reported, environmental restoration activities in the Great Lakes are uncoordinated. So, the second goal of this legislation is the establishment of a Great Lakes Federal coordinating council to coordinate Federal activities in the Great Lakes. The EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office would serve as the council leader, and participants would include the key Federal agencies involved in Great Lakes work, such as NOAA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Interior. The council would meet at least three times per year to ensure that the efforts of Federal agencies concerning environmental restoration and protection of the Great Lakes are coordinated, effective, complementary, and cost-efficient. The council also would provide a list of its funding priorities to the Office of Management and Budget.

    Finally, our bill would address the GAO's second recent finding that environmental indicators and a monitoring system for the Great Lakes need to be developed to measure progress on new and existing restoration programs.

    The Great Lakes are threatened by many problems, and I have worked with Senator LEVIN and my other colleagues from the Great Lakes states to try to address those problems on an issue-by-issue basis. These programs are working to correct problems. However, the rate of our progress has not able to keep pace with the growing number of threats. For those of my colleagues who know the problems facing Great Lakes and even other large watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay, the gulf coast, or the Everglades, you will agree that we need to refocus and improve our efforts on the Great Lakes to help reverse the trend toward additional degradation.

    The Great Lakes are a unique natural resource for Ohio and the entire region, and they need to be protected for future generations. I ask my colleagues to join me in support of this bill and in our efforts to help preserve and protect the long-term viability of our Great Lakes.

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