Approval of the Great Lakes compact wasn’t the only Great Lakes news to come out of Congress last week. The Great Lakes Legacy Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6460), sponsored by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), continues support for a program to clean-up contaminated sediments in rivers and harbors around the Great Lakes. The U.S. House passed the legislation by a vote of 411 to 9. The U.S. Senate previously approved the legislation by unanimous consent.
The Great Lakes Legacy Act authorizes federal funding to clean up 43 “areas of concern”in the Great Lakes. These are areas where high concentrations of contaminants remain in the bottom sediments of rivers and harbors that feed into the Great Lakes. They contain sediments severely contaminated with persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substances. Of the 43 “areas of concern,” 26 are located entirely within the United States, 12 are in Canada, and five are shared by the United States and Canada. The “areas of concern” do not meet the binational water quality goals established by the United States and Canada, and both governments have committed to cleaning them up through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The original 2002 Great Lakes Legacy Act authorization expired September 30 of this year, making reauthorization critical. This is only an authorization, however, and the funds will still need to be appropriated through the budget process.
Passage of the Great Lakes Legacy Reauthorization Act was not a total victory, however. The original 2002 Great Lakes Legacy Act authorized $50 million a year, an amount that has proved inadequate for the job. The House had earlier this year approved legislation increasing the authorization to $150 million a year for five years. But after the Bush administration signaled its opposition to a funding increase, the Senate passed the legislation with only the existing funding levels, and the House was forced to do the same. Rep. Ehlers and other Congressional leaders from the region have vowed to seek additional funding next year with a more supportive presidential administration.
Update: Great column by Tom Henry of the Toledo Blade ("Bureaucrats shortchange Great Lakes cleanup plan") on the Bush administration's opposition to increased funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act.