St. Paul, MN- At two press conferences today, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups and policymakers applauded a new bill – the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act, as an important measure to protect and restore the Great Lakes.
In St. Paul, speakers included Samantha Chadwick with Environment Minnesota, Senator Yvonne Prettner-solon, Lesley Kandaras from Senator Klobuchar’s office, Bethany Snyder from Rep. Betty McCollum’s office, and Darrell Gerber with Clean Water Action.
This afternoon in Duluth, a press conference overlooking the St. Louis River will feature Julen Boe with the St. Louis River Alliance, Don Ness the Mayor of Duluth, Brent Malvick from Rep. Oberstar’s office, Dave Zentner, and a representative from the Duluth League of Women Voters.
The Great Lakes have been an important economic engine for over a century. Forty-two million people depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, and millions more benefit from the business, industry and commence harbored in the region. A Brookings Institute report concludes that restoring the health of the Great Lakes will generate over $50 billion in benefits from new jobs, increased economic development and increased property values. A vital part of our nation’s economic recovery will be to restore the Great Lakes – one of the nation’s most important natural and economic resources.
Samantha Chadwick with Environment Minnesota, a statewide, member-based advocacy group, said, “The Great Lakes are a pride and treasure of our region. Minnesotans love Lake Superior especially for the scenic views, camping, and hiking along the North Shore. It is part of our heritage and we must protect the lake for our kids to inherit and enjoy.”
The health of the Great Lakes is threatened by legacy problems as well as ongoing threats such as toxic waste, pollutants and sediment run-off from residential and commercial land use, sewage pollution and invasive species. Specifically, the health of the Great Lakes continues to be in danger from invasive species like the Asian Carp, which threaten to push the lakes’ ecosystems over the edge. And every year, 24 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes.
At today’s event, Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Representative McCollum were applauded for taking a lead in protecting the Great Lakes by cosponsoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act. “The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act of 2010, a new bipartisan bill, presents Congress with the opportunity to propel Great Lakes restoration and protection forward,” said Darrell Gerber, Program Coordinator for Clean Water Action.
The bill provides an infusion of new resources, new energy and cooperation to help clean up toxic hot spots, prevent runoff pollution, restore natural habitat and reduce the threat from aquatic invasive species. It will also enhance regional collaboration, increase accountability and ensure that restoration efforts focus on the right priorities that produce the most benefit to the Great Lakes and the people, businesses and communities that depend upon them.
“All of the water that ever has been on our Earth or ever will be is here right now, it’s our job to make sure we protect it and preserve it for future generations,” said Congressman Jim Oberstar in an issued statement. “Restoring the ecosystems of the Great Lakes is an important first step towards that end. It takes 250 years for all of the waters of Lake Superior to circulate though the watershed and change over; toxins left in the lake today could linger there for centuries. This bill sets us on a course of responsible stewardship.”
Senator Yvonne Prettner-Solon lauded the bill as important to the entire region, saying “The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act is bi-partisan Federal legislation that, when passed will help restore and protect the Great Lakes as well as help boost our local and regional economy. This investment will provide jobs now and into the future as our local and state economies benefit from the demand for clean fresh water.”
A key to successful implementation of federal programs to protect and restore the Great Lakes is collaboration of state, local and private partners. In addition to this new bill in Congress, today’s participants pointed to more local efforts to clean up the Great Lakes and nearby waters, like ongoing efforts to restore the Lower St. Louis River and the Duluth/Superior Harbor. They also stressed the importance of funding to finish the work already started. Julene Boe, Executive Director for the St. Louis River Alliance, said, “considerable work has already been finished but we have numerous projects that are waiting on nothing more than funding in order to begin.”
An important tool is the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which was overwhelmingly approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. Included in the Amendment was a new state sales tax of 1/8 of 1% dedicated to cleanup and protection of water in Minnesota. Last year, $750,000 was appropriated from the fund to be used to match federal money for testing and mapping of toxic sediment deposits in the Lower St. Louis River. The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment gives Minnesota an opportunity to leverage federal money to implement the cleanup plans to restore one of the state’s most important water resources.
Some key highlights of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act of 2010:
• Authorizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $475 million per year. This is the level of funding appropriated for the 2010 fiscal year.
• Creates increased oversight for GLRI programs. This includes a stakeholder council that annually sets program priorities and a committee which evaluates programs to ensure the most effective use of GLRI funds.
• Gives Congressional authorization to the Federal Interagency Task Force which was established by President George W. Bush through Executive Order.
• Reauthorizes the Great Lakes Legacy Act which expires in 2010. This funds cleanup of toxic sediments like those found in the Duluth/Superior Harbor. The funding authority is increased to $150 million per year.
• Reauthorizes EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) at a funding level of ($25 million).
Environment Minnesota * Clean Water Action of Minnesota * The Minnesota Environmental Partnership * St. Louis River Alliance * Duluth League of Women Voters