It didn’t take long for our Great Lakes Congressional Task Force to drop the gauntlet before President Elect-Barack Obama. Just days before the new President is to be sworn in, US Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.), George Voinovich (R-OH) and Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.) introduced the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, begging the question, did Obama really mean it when he signed the campaign pledge to usher in Great Lakes restoration during his tenure in the White House?
“With a partner in the White House who understands the great need to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem, I’m hopeful that we can make some real progress this year,” stated Levin.
Yesterday, the US Senators and House Member Rep. Ehlers introduced the $20 billion restoration package that emerged from the 2005 strategy sessions held by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. Obama is intimately familiar with the bill as a former cosponsor during his time as a Senator for Illinois. The bill has been introduced annually since its inception, but this year, there are some significant changes to the Senate version.
There is no longer any reference to ballast water management regulations because this was something that was holding the bill up. Then, because the Great Lakes Legacy Act was reauthorized for two – instead of five years – last fall, the Senate version extends the authorization through 2015 and triples the funding to $150 million a year. Finally, a new grants program targeted at restoration activities is included in the new bill. The House version remains the same as in years past.
When running for President, Barack Obama signed the pledge that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Rep. Ehlers (R- and then Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel circulated requiring the president to shepherd restoration through the Congress and fund it too. Obama sent HOW this statement after signing the pledge, “ I am proud to sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge, and when I am President, the Great Lakes Collaboration will receive real support, real financial resources, and real leadership from the federal government. As a resident of the Great Lakes region, I understand the importance of this critical natural resource to our nation’s economy, environment and public welfare.”
Then just before the economy slid further into the current chasm, candidate Obama released a five-point plan for restoration of the Great Lakes that promised to create a $5 billion trust fund to pay for the plan. The volatility of the economy has caused some to fear that these commitments have fallen from favor, but in fact, the very instability of the current economy may create a foothold for the restoration package that we’ve been fighting for since 2005.
“The economic recovery package potentially presents a very rare opportunity in a single stroke of the president’s pen to generate a significant amount of money for Great Lakes restoration,” our own Jeff Skelding, told the Detroit Free Press, referring to the upcoming stimulus package. “It would both heal the Great Lakes and create jobs.”
The Brookings Institution released a report that finds that by restoring the Great Lakes, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created in our region and the $20 billion investment would reap at least a $50 billion profit–and upwards of $100 billion. The economic benefits of the legislative plan are a perfect fit for the region as a whole – it is the best strategy for the next president to pursue.
“Passage of this pivotal legislation would send a clear message to the country—we are committed to restoring the Great Lakes and protecting them from further deterioration,” Sen. Voinovich said. “It is vital that Americans understand that this is not a regional problem—the deterioration of the Great Lakes affects the country as a whole. We finally have a coordinated and unified strategy that is absolutely necessary to saving one of our nation’s greatest natural resources and it is time to move forward with the implementation of that strategy.”
Our real ace-in-the- sleeve may be having Rahm Emanuel as Chief-of-Staff whose dedication to restoration of the Great Lakes is fierce and determined. When he was still a Representative for Illinois, Emanuel promised HOW that he intended to get restoration funding for the Great Lakes if he had to create a $300 billion water bill that included water from every Congressional district in the United States. It seems like the timing may be on our side in 2009 and our Great Lakes Delegation is fighting for the fulfillment of promises made.