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Annual Meeting Information News Release

Annual Meeting Brings New Leaders, New Opportunities to Caucus of Great Lakes Legislators

LOMBARD, IL — During the final session of its “Virtual” Annual Meeting on October 9, the binational, nonpartisan Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus (GLLC) took major steps forward by electing new leaders and adopting a policy goal of helping coastal communities become more climate resilient.  

Members who met via Zoom elected Illinois Representative Robyn Gabel to lead the Caucus as Chair in 2021-22. Minnesota Representative Jennifer Schultz was elected to the position of Vice Chair.  

“I’m honored that my fellow GLLC members selected me to lead the Caucus,” said Representative Gabel. “We have an important mission: to take coordinated regional action to assure that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River continue to provide a plentiful source of clean, safe, affordable water to the residents, businesses, and industries that depend upon them. I’m excited to have the opportunity to advance this mission over the next two years.”  

Outgoing chair Indiana Senator Ed Charbonneau will complete his term on December 31. Of Representative Gabel’s election, Senator Charbonneau said, “What an absolutely fantastic development for the Caucus. The GLLC really has come far as an organization over the past few years. I have no doubt that Representative Gabel’s leadership will take us even farther.” 

The Caucus also elected members to serve in 2021-22 on the GLLC Executive Committee. All 10 jurisdictions – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Québec, and Wisconsin – are represented on the committee, which directs the GLLC’s activities. 

Members also adopted several resolutions calling on state/provincial and national leaders to address topics of concern including emerging contaminants and coal-based tar sealcoats and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-based pavement sealants, the danger to Lake Superior posed by sulfide-ore copper mining in the St. Louis River watershed, continued (U.S.) federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and other topics: 

  • Creation of a (U.S.) federal rate relief programs for low-income water and wastewater customers, akin to the existing Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program for energy customers, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Recommending that the U.S. Congress lift the volume cap on private activity bonds as a method of funding water infrastructure projects. 
  • Calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a national Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOS and PFOA chemicals in drinking water and to convene a national task force to study their mitigation. 

The members also approved a resolution thanking and honoring Senator Charbonneau for his years of service to the Caucus. In 2021-2022, Senator Charbonneau will continue to serve ex officio on the GLLC Executive Committee as a past chair. 

The Caucus also chose the focus for the 2021 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy: helping coastal communities to become more climate resilient. The purpose of the institute is to bring together a select group of GLLC members to examine a single issue and create a plan for region-wide action to address the issue by coordinating on new policies. The institute is named in honor of the GLLC’s founder, the late Senator Patty Birkholz of Michigan.  

The focus for the initial, pilot institute was the elimination of lead as a contaminant in drinking water. Members in 2018 adopted a resolution committing the Caucus to “collaborate regionally on policy measures in the Great Lakes states and provinces to reduce lead in drinking water in order to reduce the population’s exposure to and contamination from lead.” Last month, the Caucus’ Task Force on Lead released a Model Policy for state and provincial legislators addressing lead removal and mitigation. The task force will sunset this year, having completed its two-year workplan. 

In 2019, the Birkholz Institute focused on nutrient pollution; the Caucus’ Task Force on Nutrient Management, chaired by Wisconsin Senator André Jacque, will continue working in 2021.  

The mission of the GLLC is to take the best science-based recommendations from studies and put them into practice in the eight states and two provinces that share the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Through its mix of programming, advocacy, and other activities, the Caucus provides a forum for the regional exchange of ideas and information on key issues that impact the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Membership in the nonpartisan caucus is open to all state and provincial legislators in the eight states and two provinces that share the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin. 

Recordings of, and briefing materials for, all four sessions of the Caucus’s 2020 “Virtual” Annual Meeting can be viewed at https://greatlakeslegislators.org/2020-virtual-meetings/

The Council of State Governments Midwestern Office supports and provides staffing services for the Caucus, which is funded in part by grants from The Joyce Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.  CSG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association serving all three branches of state government. As part of its services for GLLC members, CSG Midwest maintains a legislative tracker, available at www.greatlakeslegislators.org, that monitors bills being considered in state and provincial capitols. 

For more information about the Caucus or the 2020 Annual Meeting, please contact Lisa Janairo at ljanairo@csg.org or 920.458.5910, or visit www.greatlakeslegislators.org

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Annual Meeting Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

Controlling Nutrient Runoff Focus of Second Virtual Session of GLLC’s 2020 Meeting

In most years, on most days, nutrients from the agricultural operations of the Great Lakes region largely stay on the fields. But when heavy rains come, the runoff of phosphorus and other nutrients occurs, as they leave the fields, enter streams, and ultimately reach the lakes. 

“The practices that are in place don’t work during those moments [of big storm events],” said SantinaWortman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office during a Sept. 21 meeting of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus. 

The result is a health and environmental problem that continues to vex the region’s policymakers, particularly those representing the western Lake Erie basin: how to get phosphorus loads below targeted levels in order to prevent harmful algal blooms. 

That issue was the focus of the second of four virtual sessions being held as part of the GLLC’s 2020 Annual Meeting. Along with hearing from Wortman, lawmakers were briefed by Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque on the GLLC’s new model policies for reducing nutrient pollution. Sen. Jacque serves as chair of the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed the policies.  

Wortman spoke to state and provincial legislators about the progress and status of Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the binational commitment between the United States and Canada (last updated in 2012) to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. Annex 4 outlines the two countries’ plans for reducing nutrient pollution. 

The two nations have determined that a 40 percent reduction is needed in Lake Erie’s western and central basin, and the state governments of Michigan and Ohio as well as the province of Ontario have committed to that same level. Under that state-province Western Lake Erie Collaborative, the 40 percent reduction is supposed to be met by 2025. 

But as Wortman noted in her presentation, progress has been slow, despite new investments and initiatives across the basin. “We haven’t seen any kind of downward trend yet in terms of the [harmful algal] blooms,” she said.  

And since 2012, annual phosphorous loading has exceeded targeted levels every year but one — with that single exception being a very dry year that didn’t have the kind of big rain events that lead to nutrient runoff. 

graph showing severity of algal blooms from 2010 to 2020

According to Wortman, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations account for much of the nutrient pollution in western Lake Erie (85 percent in the Maumee River watershed, for example). 

To date, the policy response has centered on voluntary, incentive-based initiatives, such as conservation programs funded by the states or U.S. Farm Bill and “4R” projects that help farmers improve their management practices.  

The states of Michigan and Minnesota offer voluntary certification programs for agricultural operations that meet certain water quality standards and implement state-approved conservation practices. In return for meeting these criteria, farmers receive recognition and regulatory certainty from the state. 

Wisconsin offers grants to groups of agricultural producers that collaborate on new conservation initiatives in a single watershed of the state.  

Most recently, Ohio legislators invested $172 million this biennium in a new H2Ohio Initiative, with one of the four main goals being a reduction in phosphorus runoff that comes from the commercial fertilizer and manure on farmland. The state Department of Agriculture is funding projects that change nutrient-management practices in the counties that make up the Maumee River watershed. State incentives will go to farmers that have been certified as having adopted a mix of nine “best practices” in nutrient management — for example, soil testing and the use of cover crops and edge-of-field buffers. 

Recent initiatives have also targeted reductions in point-source pollution.  

One notable success story, Wortman said, has been the results of facility and operational improvements at the Great Lakes Water Authority, which provides water and sewer services in the Detroit area. 

“It has already achieved a 400-metric-ton reduction, which goes a long way toward Michigan’s [overall] 40 percent reduction goal,” she said, adding that, along with these new initiatives, other positive signs include an increased use of science and monitoring to help inform policymakers. But this research also shows that reducing harmful algal blooms and lowering phosphorus loads could take many years due to factors such as “legacy phosphorus” — the buildup of this nutrient from previous years’ applications. 

“That is going to take some time to work through the system,” Wortman said. “And in any given year, you have a combination of what was applied this year and what was there from before.” 

The GLLC made a reduction in nutrient pollution the focus of its 2019 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. Funding for the institute and for the GLLC’s work on nutrient pollution is provided by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. 

At the Sept. 21 meeting, the Caucus also voted on the focus for the next Birkholz Institute, which will take place in late 2021. Members chose to concentrate on helping communities to become climate resilient.   

The meeting was recorded and the slide deck is included in the virtual briefing book for the 2020 Virtual Meetings. The GLLC will continue its Virtual Meeting with two more sessions on October 2 and October 9, both starting at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. Visit the meeting webpage to learn more about the remaining sessions and to register. 

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Annual Meeting Events Issues Members

GLLC Annual Meeting Goes Virtual

Like so many other meetings these days, the GLLC 2020 Annual Meeting is going virtual. We had an exciting agenda lined up for the in-person meeting planned in Detroit — including some really great off-site activities. With the pandemic, though, we’ll have to postpone those site-based activities until 2022. We can, however, bring high-quality, timely programming to GLLC members and other interested attendees through the wonders of technology. The significant “up” side to going virtual with this programming is that far more GLLC members and other legislators will have a chance to tune in to the sessions than could ever attend in person — especially in an election year!

We have four excellent sessions planned, featuring issues on the GLLC policy agenda and a variety of GLLC business. The full line-up is available here on the GLLC 2020 Virtual Meetings web page. We even have a handy flyer for you to share with colleagues who might be interested. All sessions will take place in Zoom and will start at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. All sessions are open to anyone who would like to attend (we especially encourage GLLC members and other legislators to attend). And all sessions are free. We do ask attendees to please register here.

Kicking off the first session on September 11 will be Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Elin Betanzo speaking about the long-term health effects of lead poisoning on the children of Flint, Michigan, and what state and provincial legislators are doing and still can do to eliminate lead in drinking water. The business session will feature a final chair’s report from Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau, outgoing GLLC Chair, and a report from the Caucus’s Task Force on Lead about the GLLC’s recommended policies for reducing exposure to lead in drinking water.

The remaining three virtual meetings will continue on September 21, October 2, and October 9. To learn what’s in store, visit the 2020 Virtual Meetings web page or view our flyer. Feel free to share the flyer, too, with colleagues who may be interested.

We thank the Joyce Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for their generous support of the GLLC’s activities, including the 2020 Virtual Meetings.

Contact me at gllc@csg.org or 920.458.5910 if you have any questions about the virtual meetings or would like to learn about sponsorship opportunities.