Great Lakes Restoration Returns, Part 2

In last Friday’s post, I mentioned two major Great Lakes restoration developments over the past several weeks, and focused on one — the Administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.

Today I’ll talk about the Congressional side: proposed legislation to lock in and accelerate Great Lakes restoration.

The bill is called the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act of 2010, and it’s a good one. If passed, it will establish a permanent framework around which to build Great Lakes restoration funding, programs, and governance.

Here’s how:

  • The bill contains long-term statutory authorization for substantial levels of Great Lakes restoration funding.  Right now, Great Lakes restoration funding is authorized as it’s appropriated, year-by-year. That can work for the short term, but it’s an ad hoc process that depends on the extraordinary efforts of the Administration and our Congressional champions.  What this bill does is to establish a 5-year authorization of $650 million annually.  Although the funds still will need to be appropriated every year, the long-term authorization sets an expectation for Congress and the Administration of high levels of Great Lakes funding every year. And the level of authorization – the $650 million is higher than last year’s historic $475 million – indicates the right level of commitment to funding the federal component of the $20 billion required for Great Lakes restoration.
  • It  makes one agency – the U.S. EPA – the director of Great Lakes restoration, and makes other agencies accountable to it. The Great Lakes have long lacked an “orchestra leader,” as Senator Voinovich noted in hearings in 2004. Dozens of agencies supervise over 100 programs on the Great Lakes, which in the past has led to fragmentation, inefficiency, and delays. This bill makes EPA that leader. It not only puts EPA permanently at the head of an interagency task force; it designates EPA as the agency to receive all the funding for Great Lakes restoration and then enables EPA to give some of that funding to other agencies doing Great Lakes restoration work.  This funding arrangement is essential because it gives EPA the clout to really direct the restoration effort – even the priorities of other agencies.  But EPA does not have carte blanche; the bill also directs EPA and all the agencies to follow a single Great Lakes restoration plan.  And for those who really like inside baseball, these provisions in the bill have the added benefit of streamlining and consolidating the appropriations process for Great Lakes restoration funding, making approvals necessary from only one appropriations committee in each legislative chamber. (If this part of the bill sounds familiar, that’s because it closely tracks the Administration’s agency directives in the GLRI over the past two years.)
  • The bill establishes a broadly participatory and potentially effective advisory panel for the decisions made by EPA and the other federal agencies. One criticism of the GLRI process over the past two years has been that decisions are made without adequate knowledge or participation by key stakeholders – like states, tribes, cities, and community and business leaders. The bill creates a leadership board and a management committee comprised of those entities to advise EPA and the interagency task force and requires the federal agencies to consider that advice.

So the bill’s a good one. But will it pass?

Well, it has bipartisan co-sponsors from both chambers and many states. And in many respects, it’s simply putting into law what the Administration is already doing and what Congress has already approved through the appropriations process.

The real question is whether Congress (and the rest of us) can get past the Asian carp crisis. If Asian carp take all of our energy and focus, this bill could languish or get derailed.

Yet another reason to figure out how to stop the invasion of the carp, and stop it now.

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3 Responses to “Great Lakes Restoration Returns, Part 2”

  1. bjspring Says:

    Yes, this needs to be done.

  2. Bobby Says:

    Wow, that’s pretty exciting. EPA oversight for restoration & over 5 years, close the $5B Obama promised. How close to passable is it?

  3. Andy Buchsbaum Says:

    On the chances of passage: It’s early days yet, but it’s got bipartisan and mulit-state support. What would have been big steps in the past — five years of funding, governance, etc. — mostly have been done or set up through the Administrative and budget process already, so the content shouldn’t be controversial. It’s really a question of how high a priority this will be with a very busy Congress. Our Great Lakes Congressional delegation can make it a high priority, given how large that delegation is and how powerful their leaders are. And they’ll make it a priority if we, their constituents, do. So yes, there’s hope, but we all have some work to do.

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