Great Lakes

Crain’s Chicago Business: Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Asian Carp Project, but Rauner Balks

 

Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks

Greg Hinz On Politics

It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?

States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.

But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.

The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.

In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.

“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”

Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.

“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”

Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.

Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.

“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”

Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.

Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.

In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.

That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.

“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.

Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.

READ COLUMN HERE

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Detroit Free Press OpEd: President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

 

August 30, 2018

President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

OpEd

By Howard Learner

Summertime reminds us that the Great Lakes are a great natural treasure. Forty-two million people rely on this freshwater for safe drinking water supplies, but it’s more than that. The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play.

President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to get it. He won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but Trump’s policy shifts and budget cuts amount to a war on the Great Lakes. The President’s budgets have proposed to zero-out or cut 90% of funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Congress has twice rejected those cuts and restored full funding of $300 million annually.

The Department of Commerce is proposing to cutting the acreage of the popular Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena to Mackinaw City shoreline. The EPA is attempting to roll back common-sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water. What is President Trump thinking?

Both Michigan Republican and Democratic leaders have publicly disagreed with these misguided proposals. So have business, civic and environmental groups. Protecting the Great Lakes is bipartisan and nonpartisan.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21% of the planet’s fresh water supply and provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species. The Great Lakes support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and draw tourists who support shoreline communities’ economies.
Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. We can’t afford to mess it up. So, why this war on the Great Lakes?

First, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a common-sense program that supports shoreline and wetlands protection projects, keeping out invasive species and reducing harmful algae blooms. Congress has again rejected the President’s budget cuts and restored full funding for this important program. The White House’s response: a new Statement of Administration Policy opposing this funding. The bipartisan Congressional delegation and Governors strongly disagree.

Second, the Department of Commerce continues to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s only such freshwater preserve, and proposes to cut its size down by 90% from 4,300 to 448 square miles. Six Michigan Congress members wrote to Commerce Secretary
Ross explaining the economic, tourism and ecological value of this National Marine Sanctuary, which is a source of pride and income to northeast Michigan shoreline communities.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore “Shipwreck Alley” where 100 ships rest on Lake Huron’s bottom, and learn about Great Lakes maritime history. It’s not controversial. Gov. Snyder formally requested that Secretary Ross end the review and leave the Sanctuary boundaries alone, but the Secretary denied that request. Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, an adjacent state’s governor can veto a boundary change. Gov. Snyder should publicly announce that he’ll do so, and call on governor candidates Schuette and Whitmer to agree.

Third, the Trump EPA is rushing to rollback clean water standards that protect safe drinking water and preserve fish and wildlife habitat. Likewise, in federal court, the EPA is resisting sensible regulatory standards to reduce agricultural runoff pollution that causes toxic blue-green algae blooms in Lake Erie, which threaten drinking water for 500,000 people in the Toledo area and harm commercial fisheries.

Good policy is good politics. The battle for Great Lakes protection is well worth fighting for and winning, but it shouldn’t have to be fought. The public and wise political leaders know better

READ OpEd HERE

Toledo Blade Editorial: A Crusade for Lake Erie


Editorial: A Crusade for Lake Erie

Lake Erie has found a champion in U.S. District Judge James Carr. The judge last week ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has some answering to do for the way it handled the Ohio’s seemingly lax oversight of the lake’s environmental well-being.

Even though Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio EPA finally relented last month and admitted that Lake Erie is so polluted that it qualifies as impaired under the terms of the Clean Water Act, Judge Carr is pressing forward.

Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie filed the lawsuit last year to force just such a designation. Invoking federal law should trigger federal oversight of a Lake Erie cleanup, which should have more teeth than the voluntary measures the Kasich administration has insisted for years will be enough to solve the pollution problem.

But even though the U.S. EPA has instructed Ohio officials to revisit their science on the matter and Ohio authorities have given Lake Erie the impaired label the lawsuit’s plaintiffs were seeking, Judge Carr is not ready to call the case closed.

He has taken both agencies to task and signaled that he intends to retain jurisdiction over the case. If the environmental regulators who are supposed to recognize pollution fouling the source of drinking water for millions of Great Lakes residents do not, apparently the judge is ready to take on that watchdog role.

And even though the impairment designation was an important step, it was just the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process of cleaning up the lake.

The phosphorus pouring out into the open lake each year has fueled toxic algae blooms that threaten Lake Erie’s sport fishing and tourism, Toledo’s drinking water, the region’s economic revitalization, and our quality of life.

Agricultural runoff is the main culprit in this phosphorus runoff, but tracking exactly how much comes from where in the watershed of the lake’s western basin will require study. More than that, setting limits on this pollution and helping farmers meet them will be no easy task.

The Kasich administration wants the General Assembly to expand the definition of agricultural pollution to include phosphorus runoff. This would give the state’s agriculture department more authority and also would allow the state to set phosphorus limits in ways it cannot do now.

Predictably, the state’s powerful agricultural lobby is already pushing back, calling regulation premature and recommending more study and a slower pace.

Ohio’s farmers need a healthy Lake Erie with drinkable, fishable, swimmable water too. And Lake Erie is going to need more than one champion. Now it is time for a few lawmakers in Columbus to join Judge Carr’s cause.

Associated Press: Algae Leads to ‘Impaired’ Designation for Western Lake Erie

Algae Leads to ‘Impaired’ Designation for Western Lake Erie

By John Seewer

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio, for the first time, is designating the entire western end of Lake Erie as an impaired waterway because of the toxic algae that has fouled drinking water and closed beaches in recent years, officials said Thursday.

The shallowest of the Great Lakes has seen its largest algae blooms on record over the past decade, fueled mainly by farm fertilizers washing into the lake.

Until now, Ohio has resisted calls by environmental groups and some political leaders to issue an impairment declaration, saying federal regulators didn’t have standards to trigger such a decision for the lake’s open waters.

Officials within Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration also have been worried that calling the lake impaired would wrongly give the impression that it’s no longer safe as a drinking water source or for boaters and swimmers.

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency worked with university researchers to come up with a measurement standard and determined that water samples show the western part of Lake Erie aren’t meeting water quality standards, state EPA Director Craig Butler said.

The move comes as a federal judge is considering a lawsuit filed by environmental groups who want the lake classified impaired, hoping it would pave the way for increased pollution regulations.

Whether stiffer rules will be mandated isn’t clear.

Butler said he doesn’t expect the EPA to order any new regulations because Ohio already has a federally approved plan in place to combat the algae that now turns the lake’s blue waters into unsightly shades of green most summers.

An algae bloom in 2014 left more than 400,000 people around Toledo unable to drink their tap water for two days. The following year’s outbreak was the largest yet.

Blooms also have been blamed for fish kills and can sicken swimmers.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. EPA called for increased efforts to reduce the phosphorus that feeds the algae but didn’t recommend any new regulations.

Instead, the federal strategy relies on existing state and local programs and voluntary actions by farmers to prevent fertilizers, manure and sewage from flowing into waterways. It said some tougher rules might be needed but leaves those decisions to the states.

Environmental groups that have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts applauded Ohio’s move, but they said tougher and enforceable regulations throughout the western Lake Erie region are still needed.

“Voluntary efforts haven’t been enough,” said Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which brought the lawsuit seeking the impairment designation. “To be clear, this is a first step and not the ending.”

Peter Bucher of the Ohio Environmental Council said that without a plan reducing the pollutants, Lake Erie will be “inundated by yearly large-scale algal blooms for the foreseeable future.”

Ohio officials say the impairment designation doesn’t mean that the western end of the lake isn’t safe or that it should be avoided when there are no algae blooms in the water.

The worry, though, is that it will cause people to think twice about visiting the lake, Butler said.

“I’m very concerned about the negative consequences this could bring for our tourism and fishing industries for very little environmental gain,” he said.

Ohio’s impairment designation covers an area of the lake that stretches roughly 60 miles — from Toledo to Marblehead — and is popular with boaters and anglers.

Until now, the state had designated only shoreline waters and a small area near Toledo’s water intake pipe as impaired.

The impairment designation is part of a two-year evaluation of all state waterways that’s mandated by the Clean Water Act.

READ MORE

 

U.S. News & World Report/AP: US Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

 

U.S. Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Ohio to do another review of Lake Erie to determine whether it should be declared impaired by toxic algae blooms that have become a recurring threat in recent summers.

The agency in a letter to Ohio’s environmental director said it was reversing an earlier decision that had agreed with the state’s assessment that the western end of Lake Erie should not be listed as impaired.

The EPA’s reversal issued last week didn’t go as far as ordering the lake to be designated as an impaired watershed. Instead, it said the state’s list of impaired waters was incomplete and didn’t properly evaluate the lake’s waters.

Several environmental groups have sued the EPA saying the lake should be classified impaired because algae blooms are preventing the waters from meeting basic quality standards. The designation could pave the way for increased pollution regulations in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.
Michigan proposed in 2016 designating its portion of Lake Erie as impaired, but Ohio resisted doing the same for its entire section.

Craig Butler, director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the state will do the review but needs more details from the federal agency. It remains unclear, he said, is what the standards are that should trigger an impaired designation for the lake’s open waters.

Butler said the U.S. EPA earlier told the state that it doesn’t have a way to gauge the algae’s impact. He said the state is working with university researchers to come up with such a measurement standard.

“We have never said that Lake Erie doesn’t have problems,” Butler said.

Algae outbreaks have fouled drinking water twice since 2013 and are a threat to fish and wildlife. Last year’s bloom stretched along the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, and was among the largest in recent years.

Scientists largely blame phosphorus-rich fertilizer runoff from farms and municipal sewage overflows for feeding the algae growth.

Backers of listing the lake as impaired hope it will bring increased regulations on how farmers fertilize their fields and dispose of livestock manure.

The U.S. EPA’s change of course is welcome but doesn’t ensure adequate protection for the lake, said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which sued over Ohio’s refusal to designate its western section as impaired.

The federal agency should order Ohio to immediately develop plans known as “total maximum daily loads,” which would impose specific limits on phosphorus flows into the lake, Learner said. Instead, the U.S. EPA appears willing to wait for a new state evaluation due in April.

“They seem to be kicking the can down the road,” Learner said.

READ MORE

Toledo Blade: Federal EPA reverses course in Lake Erie impairment issue

 

By Tom Henry

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, admitting it was wrong to approve a Kasich administration plan that has fundamentally kept the status quo of voluntary incentives for agricultural runoff intact.

While stopping short of agreeing it should immediately designate the lake’s open water as impaired, the federal agency said in a Jan. 12 letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler it has reevaluated the state’s submission from Oct. 20, 2016, and determined it is “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements of Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations.”

It further stated the Kasich administration’s submission did not adhere to its obligations to assemble and evaluate all data and information about nutrients in Lake Erie within the state’s boundaries.

Howard Learner, executive director of Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, told The Blade on Tuesday morning the U.S. EPA’s reversal is a significant development that should lead to court-ordered action for the lake and the Toledo metro region’s 500,000 people who depend on it for drinking water.

“The effect of what’s going on here is the U.S. EPA has confessed error on the merits of the case,” Mr. Learner said. “The U.S. EPA is recognizing the factual reality that western Lake Erie water is impaired by [agricultural] pollution.”

The letter, signed was shared on a federal holiday — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — with the ELPC. The ELPC was preparing to meet a Tuesday deadline set by Senior Judge James G. Carr of U.S. District Court for a motion for summary judgment. The motion is 188 pages long.

The ELPC represents Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, which was founded by activist Mike Ferner in response to the 2014 Toledo water crisis. The two groups sued the U.S. EPA several months ago over the lack of an impairment designation. The judge has indicted he wants that case resolved by this April or May, before the 2018 algae season.

“Courts shape remedies all of the time. The judge is in a position now to tell the agencies it’s time to step up to the plate,” Mr. Learner said. “It’s not permissible for agencies to violate the Clean Water Act by pretending the western basin of Lake Erie is not impaired when clearly it is.”

The U.S. EPA, which approved the Ohio plan to maintain the status quo May 19, wants all of the state’s remaining data on western Lake Erie nutrient pollution by April 9. The ELPC said in its motion for summary judgment it is seeking a more “expeditious resolution.”

Mr. Butler said the U.S. EPA told him prior to issuing the letter that it was reversing itself, and that the Ohio EPA is “working on developing a response.”

“We’ve never said there’s not a problem in the lake,” Mr. Butler said. “We think this designation as impaired or not doesn’t impact our path forward. Our commitment is as strong as it’s ever been. This is an ongoing, never-ending focus for us.”

Mr. Butler also revealed that the state agency’s reluctance to designate the lake as impaired goes beyond a desire to maintain the status quo. He said the U.S. EPA cannot define itself what exactly it takes for a body of water as large as western Lake Erie to be designated as impaired.

Mr. Butler characterized the ELPC’s push for an impairment designation as “an academic argument.”

He declined to predict how Judge Carr will rule.

A spokesmen for the U.S. EPA said their the agency planned to provide The Blade a response Wednesday.

Judge Carr has presided over several major environmental cases involving Lake Erie, including years of litigation on Ottawa River restoration efforts and the city of Toledo’s consent order with the U.S. EPA over sewage overflows.

Michigan declared its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie impaired in 2016.

READ MORE

Toledo Blade: Congressmen, ELPC, Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp

 
Congressmen Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp
by Tom Henry

Twenty-six members of Congress — including U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Tim Walberg (R., Tipton), and Debbie Dingell (D., Dearborn) — have joined numerous other elected officials in demanding more aggressive action from the Army Corps of Engineers against destructive Asian carp threatening to enter the Great Lakes near Chicago.

A bipartisan letter submitted Friday said the congressmen are firmly holding the Corps to an early 2019 deadline for completing the most crucial report to date for a long-term fix, called the Brandon Road Lock & Dam Study.

It affects the future of the Brandon Road lock near Joliet, Ill., and the series of Chicago-area waterways that artificially connect the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. That connection, made in the early 1900s, has made it possible for invasive carp moving north along the Mississippi to someday enter the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan.

The letter, submitted on the final day the Corps was accepting formal comments to its tentatively selected plan, mirrors one submitted earlier by several U.S. senators from the Great Lakes area, including Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), and senators from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York who are members of that task force.

“Current estimates show it will take as long as eight years to have a barrier installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam — a time frame which is unacceptable,” Miss Kaptur said. “With the Asian carp on the doorstep of our region’s most vital natural resource, we have a small window of opportunity to stop this invasive species. Once the Asian carp are in the Great Lakes, it will be too late to stop the destruction they will cause.”

The Corps is looking at fortifying electric barriers and taking other measures to thwart the movement of carp and other exotics. But it has said it is unlikely to act on several measures before 2025, a timeline that senators and now congressmen have said is unacceptable.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, likewise joined the fray late last week by telling the Corps in his formal comments that it should close the Brandon Road lock while also recognizing its obligation to meet previously agreed-upon deadlines.

While the Corps has tentatively selected a plan that uses electrical fences, noise, and water jets to keep out invasive species, Mr. DeWine and the large contingent of congressional members believe that doesn’t go far enough — especially after reports in June of a silver Asian carp found 9 miles from Lake Michigan, beyond the electric barriers.

The attorney general said the Corps should implement the lock closure alternative, which will be the most effective and cheapest to construct.

The Chicago-area decision affects Ohio because Lake Erie is the epicenter of the Great Lakes region’s $7 billion fishery, valued at more than all commercial and recreational fishing in U.S. waters along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

More fish are spawned and caught in Lake Erie than the other four Great Lakes combined.

Researchers have said Ohio’s tourism and recreation industries would greatly suffer if Asian carp found their way to western Lake Erie.

Mr. DeWine also encouraged the Corps to work on plans for a multibillion-dollar, complete hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins to block the spread of Asian carp.

A contingent of five major environmental groups — the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network, and the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club — also demanded a more aggressive response from the Corps via 21 pages of joint comments submitted Friday.

“Now is the time for all effective and necessary action steps,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said. “Further delays risk Asian carp getting into Lake Michigan while the Army Corps is fiddling. Prevention solutions now are wise investments.”

READ MORE

Great Lakes Now: ELPC’s Learner Tells US Army Corps to Stop Fiddling, Act Fast on Asian Carp Report

Pace of Asian Carp Plan “taking far too long”
Michigan Senators Critical of Timetable

by Gary Wilson

The debate about how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes hit another milestone last week as the Army Corps of Engineers’ extended comment period on a potential solution came to a close.

The controversy is now in its second decade.

The opportunity to comment was expanded to accommodate a previously unscheduled session in New Orleans. The extension angered Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters who say the “process is taking far too long.”

The Corps has been seeking public input on its plan, known as the Brandon Road Lock study, since September. If implemented, the plan would provide a suite of options to keep carp out of the Great Lakes.

in a letter to the Corps, Stabenow and Peters questioned why the New Orleans meeting wasn’t scheduled earlier.

The Brandon Road Lock, 50 miles from Lake Michigan, near Joliet, Illinois, is thought to be a choke point for stopping Asian carp.

But the final Army Corps report isn’t due until August of 2019, and Stabenow and Peters want that date moved up by eight months to January.

The senators expressed frustration that the Trump administration had delayed release of the report early in 2017.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti called for the report to be delayed in a column published in the Chicago Tribune in early 2017. Shipping interests in Illinois have lobbied against the Army Corps plan.

In their letter, Stabenow and Peters also questioned the Corps’ economic analysis of the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.

“The (Army Corps) should not ignore the impact of Asian carp on several important industries – including recreation and tourism – or the economic impacts to the other Great Lakes besides Lake Erie,” the senators wrote.

Lake Erie’s fishery is the largest in the Great Lakes and thought to be the most vulnerable to an Asian carp invasion.

In a similar letter to the Army Corps, 28 members of the U.S. House from the Great Lakes region called for the original project timeline to be followed.

“Fiddling”

Input from environmental groups followed previously held positions but also sought to spotlight economic impacts.

Howard Learner said in a statement released to Great Lakes Now that the Army Corps’ proposals are a “starter.”

But Learner said they are “short of what’s needed to avoid the economic and ecological disaster if our public officials don’t prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

He accused the Corps of “fiddling,” which would lead to additional delays.

READ MORE

Traverse Magazine: Howard Learner Guest Column: Protecting the Great Lakes & the Thunder Bay Nat’l Marine Sanctuary

December 2017

Protecting the Great Lakes and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
By Howard A. Learner

The Great Lakes are our great natural treasure. This is where Midwesterners live, work and play. Protecting the Great Lakes has strong bipartisan support. Safe clean drinking water is not partisan at all. We all care—a lot.

President Trump won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but his policies are puzzling in light of Michiganders’ clean water priorities. His administration is proposing to allow offshore oil drilling and cut down the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena-to-Mackinaw City shoreline. His proposed budget slashes the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million to zero. The EPA is rolling back common sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water.

These are headscratchers, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders and by business, civic and environmental groups alike.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, provide drinking water for 42 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species, support the $7 billion fishing industry, and offer recreational opportunities for millions of people.

Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. Michiganders recognize this remarkable value. We can’t afford to spoil the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a review for reducing the size of, and allowing offshore oil drilling in, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron.

Thunder Bay protects a treasure trove of 100 significant shipwrecks. Following participatory stakeholder processes in 2014, this National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 448 to 4,300 square miles.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore Shipwreck Alley and offers a window into Great Lakes maritime history. The sanctuary is not controversial. It’s America’s only fresh water Marine Sanctuary.

Federal law and Michigan law prohibit offshore oil drilling in the Great Lakes. The Commerce Department’s review is puzzling.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is leading the charge to protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Our joint comments submitted with 14 Great Lakes groups explained why this popular National Marine Sanctuary must not be chopped.

Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and bipartisan Representatives Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Daniel Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Dave Trott and Fred Upton sent a joint letter to the Commerce Department expressing …

“[S]trong opposition to reducing the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary … The expansion of this sanctuary in Lake Huron in 2014, which was the result of a rigorous approval process with extensive public input, is critical to Michigan’s economy and heritage. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has helped revitalize local economies in our state.”

Let’s protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and preserve this historical maritime site today and for future generations. That’s good for jobs, economic growth and the environment.

READ MORE

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Been a Secret. ELPC’s Learner says “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog.”

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Happened

It’s a new day for the environment, and not in a hopeful sense.

A steel company’s request to Indiana authorities for “confidential treatment” when it dumped toxic metal into Lake Michigan last month is a worrisome sign that under the Trump administration we will be told less and less about threats to our environment.

Everyone, from environmental activists to ordinary Chicagoans who care about the safety of their drinking water, had better become much more vigilant.

The request came from U.S. Steel in an Oct. 31 letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after chromium leaked on Oct. 25 from a company facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. Just six months earlier, a similar leak from the same plant fouled a river tributary that feeds into the lake.

The request for secrecy — to keep you in the dark — apparently worked. A Chicago Tribune review of online press releases shows that neither state officials nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about the potentially hazardous leak.

The critical importance of leveling with the public in such matters also is illustrated by a new Better Government Association review and Associated Press investigate report of leaks from local nuclear power plants. The BGA and AP learned that radioactive material continues to leak from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants. The leaks were properly reported, but we now are confronted by an EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, who takes a skeptical view of environment protections. We have less confidence that Pruitt’s EPA will partner with the public, and not with the despoilers of the environment, when such leaks occur.

According to the BGA report, radioactive waste continues to leak from the nuclear power plants more than a decade after chronic leaks led to a $1.2 million government settlement and the company promised to guard against future accidents. Exelon says the amounts were too little to be a health risk, but the leaks remind us our air and water can quickly become tainted to the point of hazard. We need both industry and authorities to be in the vanguard of protecting the environment.

Clearly, we all deserve to know promptly whenever there is a leak of toxic industrial substances that could endanger public health. In the case of U.S. Steel’s recent leak of chromium, the Halloween Day letter surfaced only because it was seen by law students from the University of Chicago who were tracking pollution violations. If data about the leak had been released promptly, independent scientists could have assessed it and made recommendations. That is how the public is protected.

Why didn’t U.S. Steel or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, an agency considered lax by environmentalists, inform the public? Why didn’t U.S. Steel report the  leak to the National Response Center, which keeps local officials posted about spills and leaks? Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason for secrecy.

Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the handling of the U.S. Steel leak is a sign that the EPA under Pruitt is signaling to companies that it is indifference to such environmental threats.

“The message coming from Pruitt is to lay off industry,” Learner said. “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog, or the cop on the block, that leads people to be more careful.”

We pay for cops to deter crime in our city, and we pay federal inspectors and scientists to keep monitor spills and leaks that might endanger our health.

When it comes to our environment, the Trump administration is sending ominous signals.

READ HERE

 

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