By Congressman Paul Ryan
As an avid outdoorsman, a clean environment and strong conservation programs are of the utmost concern to me. Protecting the environment can go hand in hand with our efforts to expand our economy. I am working with my colleagues in Congress to develop legislation that is based on sound science and will continue to aid us in our efforts to maintain and strengthen our environment. One of my top priorities is that we continue to balance growth with stewardship. By reducing rates of pollution in more cost-effective manners, we can ensure that our “green” policies are economically and environmentally sound.
The Great Lakes are one of Wisconsin’s greatest natural resources. They contain nearly 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and supply more than 30 million Americans with their daily drinking water. It is absolutely essential that we make every effort to protect this treasured resource for future generations of Wisconsinites.
I was proud to support the recent congressional action taken on the Great Lakes Compact which the President signed into law on October 3, 2008. This legislation represents nearly a decade worth of discussion and compromise between the eight Great Lakes states on the best way to prevent water diversions from the lakes and implement new environmental protection measures. This legislation was backed by sound science and input from the local communities that would be directly affected. The Great Lakes Compact provides a model on how all stakeholders can work together to protect this vital resource.
While this is a good first step, we must continue to fight for strong protections for our lakes. I have been concerned about reports indicating that there continues to be serious issues facing the environmental health of the Great Lakes such as dangerous levels of bacteria and large blooms of algae. Given this, I was alarmed at reports that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management had issued a permit allowing British Petroleum (BP) to increase the amount of ammonia they were allowed to dump into Lake Michigan. With the lake systems currently plagued by pollutants such as mercury, PCBs, ammonia, DDT, and others, I was extremely concerned that more of these toxic substances would be deposited into such an important water resource. To that end, I was proud to vote in support of legislation that expressed Congress’ disapproval of this action and pleased to see it pass the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 387-26 on July 25, 2007. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to take up this measure and did not vote on the resolution. Despite their inaction, I remain committed to protecting the Lakes from increased pollution and dumping and will work with my colleagues to continue this work.
Coordinating the protection of our nation’s water systems and ecological habitats is one of the most important tasks assigned to Congress. In order to meet this goal, Congress directs the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to not only manage the major navigable water was in the United States, but also to provide oversight for ecosystem restoration as well as municipal water and wastewater infrastructure. In order to provide the Corps with the sufficient tools and guidance to complete this mission, the House recently passed H.R. 1495, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This essential piece of legislation gives the Corps the authorization to study water resources problems, construct and design necessary solutions, and provide updates to the Congress on the progress of these activities. The priorities laid out in H.R. 1495 are crucial to maintaining and protecting our water infrastructure, and I was proud to vote in support of this bill when it was brought before the House and passed by a vote of 394-25 on April 19, 2007.
Unfortunately, the WRDA legislation was vetoed by the President on November 11, 2007. As a result, I joined with 340 of my colleagues in the House to override the President’s veto. The Senate followed suit several days later and WRDA was enacted into law despite objections from the Bush Administration.
Because of Lakes importance to our nation welfare and security, it is essential that we do all we can to protect the lakes. That is why I have cosponsored legislation such as H.R. 1350, the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act. This bill provides $23 billion over 10 years to enact a comprehensive set of environmental protection initiatives, including measures to prevent pollution, control invasive species, and curtail the loss of wildlife habitats. Other significant provisions include the following:
$12 million for competitive grants designed to protect and conserve fish and wildlife habitat;
$20 billion over five years to assist communities with upgrading and improving their wastewater infrastructure;
$10 million per year for projects designed to lower the mercury content in the Great Lakes basin; and
$50 million per year to help restore and remediate waterfront areas.
The funding would be distributed to a Great Lakes Advisory Board consisting of governors, mayors, federal representatives and others that would distribute the funding among all of the Great Lakes states. This effort would be very complementary to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ongoing efforts to coordinate the efforts of the Great Lake States. All levels of government and the private sector must continue to work together on this important initiative.
Many catfish farms began using Asian carp in the 1970s as a means of effectively removing algae and other build-up affecting overall pond function. Unfortunately, due to the large flooding in the area during the 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed and released the Asian carp into nearby streams and the Mississippi River Basin. The carp have since made their way up the Mississippi River, competing with indigenous fish for resources and endangering local ecosystems.
Congress has already acted on this issue and is working with the Corps in association with the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to provide funding and assistance for mitigating the effects that Asian carp are having on the Great Lakes. Beginning in 2002, the Corps began construction on a temporary electric barrier as a means to slow the spread of the Asian carp. This barrier, which was built and activated in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, emits a pulsating current into the water that causes the Asian carp to turn back rather than continue upstream and into the Great Lakes Basin. This barrier has proven to be extremely effective at controlling the spread of the fish, and in 2004, Congress acted with my support to authorize $6.8 million to construct a permanent barrier. While this amount represents nearly 75 percent of the total estimated cost, the initial amount projected has proven to be insufficient to complete construction.
I have continued to support this important, multi-state project and have signed several letters to that extent. Protecting the Great Lakes from this aggressive invasive species is extremely important from both an ecological and economic perspective.
While the electronic barrier is a good first step, it is clear that more needs to be done. During the 110th Congress, I cosponsored H.R. 553, the Great Lakes Asian Carp Barrier Act. This bill would direct the Secretary of the Army to upgrade and complete the barrier system and conduct a study on a range of options and technologies that would reduce the impacts or hazards that may reduce the effectiveness the barrier. The bill also provides a credit equal to the amount contributed by the state towards completing the barrier. Finally, the Corps would be required to conduct a feasibility study of other options to prevent the spread of invasive species. I look forward to continue this work in the 111th Congress and ensure strong environmental and ecological protections are put in place to ensure the safety of the Great Lakes.
During the 111th Congress, I am serving as the Co-Chair of the bi-partisan Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. I am happy to serve in this capacity and believe in supporting policies that help sportsmen. Consisting of more than 300 members of Congress, the Caucus promotes and helps pass legislation that affects sportsmen. This includes issues that are related to conservation efforts, gun rights, and other hunting-related concerns.
Congressman Paul Ryan serves Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. To contact him by phone in Washington, D.C., call (202) 225-3031. Or visit Paul Ryan at www.house.gov/ryan