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News Release

Remarks from GLLC Director at Great Lakes Commission Virtual Meeting (11/19/20)

Thank you, Chair Jackson. It’s my pleasure to give this first report from the GLLC as an official observer of the Great Lakes Commission. Thank you very much for approving Sen. Charbonneau’s request. I’d like to relay his reaction:

I am extremely pleased that the GLC has granted the GLLC “observer” status. I am a firm believer in partnerships and working together on significant issues that affect the 40 million US and Canadian citizens who rely on the Great Lakes in so many ways. I look forward to a great future as a result of this move.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau (Indiana), GLLC Chair

This “great future” that Sen. Charbonneau mentions will build on the strong working relationship between the Caucus and the GLC that has developed over the past two years under his leadership. Our two organizations partnered on the Caucus’s inaugural Birkholz Institute in 2019, which focused on nutrient pollution. Nicole Zacharda has been an amazing resource to the institute and to the GLLC’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which organized following the institute. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner on this activity, and I’m hoping that our interaction will help identify some potentially interested parties for the Conservation Kick initiative.

The Caucus also appreciates the opportunity to serve on the Commission’s Standing Committee on Climate Resilience. I’d like to commend Eric Brown for doing such a great job leading a fairly large and very diverse group to produce what will be an important plan for the commission and also — because the commission is a convener, a collaboration leader — I believe it will be an important plan to guide the actions of other groups like the Caucus. Yesterday, Rep. Robyn Gabel (Illinois), GLLC Vice Chair and Chair-Elect, mentioned that the Caucus had decided to focus the 2021 Birkholz Institute on helping coastal communities to become climate resilient. I hope as we collaborate on the Birkholz Institute, the Caucus will be able to use the plan to zero in on some specific policy issues that require legislative action to advance. This is a great example of how our two organizations can be resources to one another.

Dr. Ralph Grundel made an excellent point earlier today about the U.S. Geological Survey translating data into “actionable intelligence.” Educating legislators about the Great Lakes is major part of the GLLC’s mission. And that’s because, to take coordinated regional action to benefit the Great Lakes, state and provincial legislators must first understand the enormous value the lakes bring to the region’s ecology and economy, as well as the threats that could potentially harm the lakes.  We’re partnering with the American Association for the Advancement of Science — specifically, the Center for Evidence in Public Issues, or EPI Center — to put together a virtual workshop for legislators on PFAS contamination of groundwater.

It’s difficult to find subject-matter experts who are able to distill their knowledge — their “terabytes of data” — into nuggets of actionable intelligence that is salient to lawmakers. We’re hoping our collaboration with the AAAS will be just the first of many opportunities to help bridge the gap between science and policy. The Caucus would welcome the opportunity to partner with other agencies and organizations that have this same “grand challenge” that Dr. Grundel described.

I want to give a shoutout to Blue Accounting. Caucus members have high hopes for the platform. We’ve talked about using it to track the GLLC’s progress in implementing policy recommendations — e.g., on nutrient management and lead in drinking water. Also, as Nicole Zacharda and others have heard me say, whenever legislators develop legislation on any topic, a first step is always to look at what other states and provinces are doing. So it would be very helpful for Blue Accounting to present information on the actions the individual states and provinces are taking and the funding they are investing in solving specific problems. This information on policies, programs, and funding from all 10 jurisdictions is useful for identifying areas in common as well as innovative, effective approaches that might be transferable to other jurisdictions. It’s also helpful for identifying areas where our differences could be counterproductive to the shared goal of ensuring that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River continue to provide a plentiful source of clean, affordable water to the region’s residents, businesses, and industries.

Finally, as Rep. Gabel observed yesterday, she will become GLLC chair in January. The new leadership team will have some overlap with the Commission: Commissioner Jennifer Schultz, State Representative from Minnesota, will become vice chair and Commissioner Carrie Ruud, Senator from Minnesota, will represent the state on the Caucus’s Executive Committee. And, of course, Minnesota Commissioner Sen. Ann Rest will continue to be an important and valued member of the Executive Committee as a past chair of the Caucus.

Congratulations to the commission, to Erika Jensen, and to the rest of the staff for hosting an excellent virtual meeting. I and the leaders of the Caucus look forward to interacting with everyone in person someday soon. Thank you.

Categories
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