Issue Position: Environment
"I am committed to protecting our environment - we hold it in trust for our children and future generations." - Congressman Mark Kirk
Congressman Kirk believes that protecting our environment is critical to preserving our way of life. That's why the League of Conservation Voters recognized him as one the top 13 "Environmental Champions" in the Congress in 2003.
He has been an independent voice on environmental issues in Washington. Among Congressman Kirk's top environmental priorities in Congress is the protection and restoration of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. With support from over 200 fellow members of Congress, Congressman Kirk is leading bipartisan efforts to design environmental legislation to address threats like mercury pollution, invasive species, toxic pollutants, and decreasing wetlands to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Congressman Kirk is a strong advocate for environmental protection on both local and national issues through his work with the Sierra Club, Lake Michigan Federation, National Wildlife Federation and the League of Conservation Voters
Saving Lake Michigan
Last December, local, state and federal officials met to endorse the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration process. This important step ensures the Great Lakes are a national priority. Congressman Kirk is an original co-sponsor of the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act (H.R. 5100).
The Collaboration Act increases funding for clean-up programs and creates a new Great Lakes Mercury Product Stewardship Strategy Grant Program. The Great Lakes are also under attack from invasive, non-native species, such as the zebra mussel and fish hook flea. Congressman Kirk is working to protect the lake against these and other threats. To further these efforts, Congressman Kirk co-sponsored two bills that seek to strengthen and reauthorize the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA) (H.R. 1591 and H.R. 1592), because they address the existing loopholes and authorize much needed funding to upgrade the fight against aquatic invasive species. The bill includes a mandatory national ballast water exchange program and rapid response program to prevent potential new invasions by non-native species.
Congressman Kirk has also introduced the bipartisan Great Lakes Invasive Species Control Act (H.R. 4771). This important legislation closes a gaping loophole in current ballast water policy and ensures that no ships entering the Great Lakes bring invasive species in through their ballast water tanks. This Act also fills a recommendation of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration.
One of the greatest long-term threats to the Great Lakes comes from mercury pollution. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that is especially harmful to pregnant women and children. In the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 Commerce Department appropriations bill, Congressman Kirk commissioned the first federal study of mercury levels in the Great Lakes. The report indicates that the Chicago-land area is a mercury "hotspot," in large part due to all the coal-powered plants in the area. Recently, Congressman Kirk met with Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) to form a group of bipartisan House and Senate Members to introduce a version of Senator Carper's bill that would cut air pollution using an innovative cap-and-trade system. The Senate bill was endorsed by the Environmental Defense Fund and would become the first federal legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions - including carbon dioxide and mercury.
Another threat facing our Great Lakes comes from sewage. Chicago dramatically improved their sewer infrastructure to prevent the dumping of partially-treated raw sewage into Lake Michigan by building the Deep Tunnel. However, other cities along Lake Michigan have been slow to upgrade their sewer infrastructure and continue to pollute the lake. People drink from this source and children swim along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Poisoning of our water supply leads to health risks and beach closures. Congressman Kirk, along with Congressman Lipinski, introduced the Great Lakes Water Protection Act (H.R. 5734). The legislation imposes fines on persons who violate the Act to be paid into each state's Clean Water Revolving Fund. The fund promotes the construction of sewer infrastructure to protect the Great Lakes. Through this bill and other efforts, such as thwarting the EPA's proposed "blending" of clean and sewage water to dump into the lakes, Congressman Kirk continues to work towards ensuring our Lakes remain free from sewage and our beaches remain open.
As a co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, Congressman Kirk is working with government and environmental groups to improve funding and protection of the Great Lakes. The task force has focused on federal appropriations for vital Great Lakes programs, including fighting exotic or invasive species, and publicizing and holding briefings on important environmental issues facing the Great Lakes.
Cleaning Up Waukegan Harbor
Congressman Kirk is working with Lake County leaders to clean up polluted sediment in Waukegan Harbor. Harbor cleanup is vital to Waukegan's economic prosperity and to Lake Michigan's environmental health.
According to a report by the University of Illinois and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cleaning up Waukegan Harbor will increase average home values by $53,000. The report concluded that harbor cleanup could add over $800 million to Lake Country property values. Kirk is working with local, state and federal officials to facility harbor cleanup by obtaining needed federal matching funds to complete this project important to the $1.2 billion redevelopment plan for Waukegan's business district and lakefront.
Restoring the Des Plaines River
Joined by members of the Sierra Club and other local environmentalists, Congressman Kirk led an expedition down the Des Plaines River to call attention to water pollution and toxic hot spots which threatens the river's health. Congressman Kirk has made the river a congressional priority by helping to secure funding from the Army Corps of Engineers to address flooding and water quality problems.
Preserving Lakeshore Bluffs
Concerned that Fort Sheridan's lakeshore bluffs and beaches would fall victim to developers looking to build high rise condominiums on what is now Navy land, Congressman Kirk helped negotiate a conservation agreement signed on August 1, 2006, between the Navy, Opens Lands and Forest City, to transfer the Navy's ownership of these key Lake Michigan bluffs to an environmental trust. Under Kirk's plan, the bluffs will become a migratory bird sanctuary and lakefront park open to the public. Provisions for the transfer will be part of the defense authorization bill soon to be finished by Congress.
Emerald Ash Borer Containment
On July 14, 2006, one day after the Illinois Department of Agriculture confirmed that the highly destructive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) had been found in Wilmette, Congressman Kirk contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting federal support for state and local efforts to contain the Emerald Ash Borer. This tiny metallic-colored beetle came into the U.S. in 2002, and is already responsible for the death or destruction on 15 million ash trees in Michigan. On July 21,2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a commitment to provide $7.6 million to local authorities for EAB eradication efforts in Illinois.
Concerned citizens can find the latest news about the Emerald Ash Borer in the Tenth District on Representative Kirk's website at http://www.house.gov/kirk/Emerald.Ash.Borer2.shtml
Congressman Kirk is working to protect the environment beyond Lake Michigan's shores:
- Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
Congressman Kirk continues to vote to protect Alaska and opposed opening ANWR to oil drilling and leases for oil and gas exploration, development, and production in the refuge.
- Energy Independence
Congressman Kirk believes America must gain energy independence and end our addiction to oil. Congressman Kirk is an original cosponsor of a bill to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and trucks (H.R. 3762). He also voted in favor of an amendment to raise the CAFÉ standards. He cosponsored legislation (such as H.R. 626 and H.R. 4774)), which will enhance research and development funding for renewable fuels, such as bio-diesel, wind, and solar power.
Congressman Kirk also cosponsored H.R. 6203 which promotes the development and widespread use of advanced technologies in all energy sectors, including solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power, and clean coal and hydrogen technologies. This legislation recently passed the House of Representatives by unanimous consent. He is also working to advance ethanol based gasoline (E-85). Congressman Kirk is a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.
- Protecting National Forests
Congressman Kirk is an original co-sponsor of legislation, H.R. 3563, introduced by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) protecting the Roadless Rule to save our national forests. He voted to ban logging and phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone.