This has been an historic week for Great Lakes water protection. The Great Lakes compact has now been approved by all eight state legislatures, as Michigan and Pennsylvania became the final states to pass legislation ratifying the compact. After the expected signings by Michigan Governor Granholm and Pennsylvania Governor Rendell, the Great Lakes compact goes to the U.S. Congress for its constitutionally-required approval.
Both houses of the Michigan legislature passed bills approving the Great Lakes compact with unanimous votes back in May (Senate Bill 212 and House Bill 4343). However, both houses tie-barred the Great Lakes compact legislation to comprehensive legislative packages to reform Michigan’s state water withdrawal laws, meaning that the compact legislation could not take effect unless the other legislation was also passed. While both houses agreed on the need to strengthen Michigan’s water withdrawal laws, the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House differed on several issues, including permit thresholds, allowable environmental impacts, public process, and application of the public trust doctrine to groundwater. With shared motivation to pass the Great Lakes compact and tremendous bipartisan leadership from Republican Senator Patty Birkholz (chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee) and Democratic Representative Rebekah Warren (chair of the House Great Lakes and Environment Committee), the Michigan legislature finally came together on a compromise supported by a wide range of environmental groups and water users. (Watch for details on the Michigan water withdrawal legislation in an upcoming post.) Governor Jennifer Granholm has publicly endorsed the Great Lakes compact and water withdrawal legislation, and is expected to sign it soon.
Pennsylvania has a relatively small portion of the Great Lakes watershed, and already manages much of the state under other interstate water compacts (notably the Susquehanna River Basin Compact and the Delaware River Basin Compact), so passage of the Great Lake compact was expected. The Pennsylvania House unanimously passed the Great Lakes compact in January (HB 1705) and the Pennsylvania Senate became the final state legislative body to approve the compact with an historic (and unanimous) vote on July 3, 2008. Governor Ed Rendell has made clear that he intends to sign the compact soon.