The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: A Review of the Progress and Challenges in Restoring the Great Lakes
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: A Review of the Progress and Challenges in Restoring the Great Lakes”
September 30, 2015
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Great Lakes are a vital resource for both the United States and Canada. The Great Lakes system provides a waterway to move goods; water supply for drinking, industrial, and agricultural purposes; a source of hydroelectric power; and swimming and other recreational activities.
But, the industrialization and development of the Great Lakes Basin over the past 200 years has had an impact on water quality in the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes are a high priority to our Members from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, particularly in the districts that border the Lakes.
However, the Great Lakes are also important to our entire nation. The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system on Earth. With six quadrillion gallons of water, the Great Lakes account for approximately 20% of the world’s fresh water supply and approximately 90% of the U.S. fresh water supply.
Thirty-five million people live in the Great Lakes region, representing roughly one tenth of the U.S. population and one quarter of the Canadian population. The Lakes are the primary water supply for most of these people.
The Great Lakes constitute the largest inland water transportation system in the world, and have played an important role in the economic development of both the United States and Canada.
According to some estimates, the Great Lakes help support more than $200 billion a year in economic activity in the region, and contribute nearly a quarter of the nation’s exports and 27 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Over 200 million tons of cargo is shipped annually through the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes present a unique environmental challenge. Legacy issues, including the build-up of toxic substances in lake sediments in areas of concern, and the introduction of invasive plant and animal species, are impacting the Great Lakes. More than 180 invasive aquatic species have become established in the Great Lakes, including at least 25 major non-native species of fish and zebra mussels, which invade and clog water intake pipes, costing water and electric generating utilities $100 to $400 million a year in prevention and remediation efforts.
Efforts to improve Great Lakes water quality and restore the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem are proceeding through cooperative efforts with Canada as well as through the efforts of numerous federal, state, tribal, local, and private parties.
The EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Great Lakes states, local communities, industry, and other parties all are involved. With so many parties involved in trying to restore the Great Lakes, coordination of the effort can be difficult.
To improve coordination, in 2004, the President signed an Executive Order creating the “Great Lakes Interagency Task Force.” The Executive Order called for the development of outcome-based goals like cleaner water, sustainable fisheries, and system biodiversity, and called on the Task Force to ensure federal efforts are coordinated and target measurable results.
The Task Force, under the lead of EPA, brings together 11 federal agencies responsible for administering more than 140 different programs in the Great Lakes region, to provide strategic direction on federal policy, priorities, and programs for restoring the Great Lakes.
Congress has enacted more than 30 federal laws specifically focused on Great Lakes restoration and there are currently more than 200 programs that provide funding and resources to Great Lakes states for restoration activities.
In 2010, the Task Force released an “Action Plan,” as part of the new Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. More than 2,000 projects have been funded to date through the first Action Plan.
In September 2014, the federal agencies released an updated “Action Plan II,” which summarizes the actions that the federal agencies plan to implement during fiscal years 2015 through 2019, using Great Lakes funding.
This Action Plan aims to strategically target the five biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate progress toward long-term goals. The five focus areas in summary include Toxic Substances, Invasive Species, Non-Point Source Pollution, Habitat Restoration, and Accountability and Education.
Since the beginning of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, there has been a concern voiced by some that restoration activities have slowed or even been halted due to a lack of coordination among the federal agencies that encompass the Task Force. Other critiques include a lack of communication between the federal Task Force and their partners in state governments.
In response to my requests, the Government Accountability Office conducted a review of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative implementation, and prepared reports of its findings in 2013 and July of this year.
Our colleague, Congressman David Joyce, introduced H.R. 223 to amend the Great Lakes program provisions under section 118 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for five years, and to carry out projects and activities for Great Lakes protection and restoration.
Under this legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency is to collaborate with other federal partners, including the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, to select the best combination of projects and activities for Great Lakes protection and restoration.
This hearing is intended to review the progress of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and to hear from witnesses on the implementation of the GLRI program and the types of improvements that need to be made to the program.
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