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Events Federal Legislation Web Meeting

Feb. 19, 2021 web meeting: New Administration, Congress mean new opportunities for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s 2021 web meeting schedule kicked off with a look at political changes in the U.S. federal government wrought by the 2020 election, and their potential impacts on policies and programs that affect the Great Lakes.

Chad Lord, Policy Director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said the new situation in Washington, D.C. – a new administration, a narrowly Democratic House and an evenly split Senate – and the Biden Administration’s stated priorities, from COVID-19 relief/economic recovery to racial and environmental equity and climate change preparedness, present opportunities for the Great Lakes region.

For example, he emphasized the importance of water infrastructure funding and suggested that GLLC members might be able to persuade their federal counterparts to include in the Biden Administration’s pending infrastructure bill funding specifically for states and municipalities to replace old water pipes and/or extant lead pipes.

Lord said there is an opportunity for doing so now that will close when political concerns take over. Among those, he added, are the Democrats’ narrow House majority, redistricting and the 2022 Congressional elections, continued fallout over the 2020 election and the events of January 6, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So, he said, the HOW Coalition will continue to press Congress to allocate full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as authorized in Congress’s 5-year renewal of the initiative, funding for water infrastructure and clean water protections, including prevention and mitigation of toxic algae blooms.

The Coalition will also keep working to ensure the Brandon Road lock and dam project moves forward to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, he added.

The web meeting was the first of six planned for 2021; the next meeting will be April 9, hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed from the inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute’s focus on that subject.

The 2021 Birkholz Institute, which will take place later this fall, will focus on helping coastal communities become more climate resilient. Information about applying to be a Birkholz Institute Fellow will be disseminated during the summer, said Caucus Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel. The meeting ended on a bittersweet note as Caucus members said farewell to the group’s Director, Lisa Janairo, who is retiring at the end of February.


 

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AIS Federal Legislation Issues Web Meeting

U.S. aquatic invasive species, ballast water laws evolving

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s series of quarterly meetings for 2020 closed out with a presentation on aquatic invasive species and ballast water management from Sarah LeSage, who coordinates the Aquatic Invasive Species program in the Water Resources Division of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

The Dec. 11 meeting also featured a short business session during which the Caucus’s gavel was symbolically passed from outgoing Chair Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau to new Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel, and with acknowledgements of the Caucus’s Executive Committee former and new members.

Ballast water regulation is complicated and ever evolving, influenced by economic growth and global trade patterns, and the “irreversible harm caused by aquatic invasive species,” LeSage said.

Historically, ballast water has been the main vector for introduction of invasive species – between 55 percent to 70 percent of reported introductions since 1959, LeSage said.

Economic effects of aquatic invasive species include cost of control, lost aesthetic value, decreased property values, and negative impacts to tourism, recreation and fishing, she added.

She provided an overview of U.S. ballast water regulation, particularly the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018. The law designates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the lead agency for establishing new ballast water standards (the EPA’s rulemaking page, with comments submitted by state agencies, can be found here). The U.S. Coast Guard will be the lead agency for monitoring, inspecting and enforcing those standards.

The EPA published its draft rules in the Federal Register on Oct. 26, and the subsequent 30-day comment period closed on Nov. 26. Once the final rules are adopted, the Coast Guard will begin developing its corresponding regulations for implementation, compliance and enforcement – a process expected to begin in 2022, LeSage said.

The law, known as VIDA, will pre-empt state authority to have specific ballast water regulations once its standards are final, effective and enforceable, but states will still have authority to enforce federal standards and requirements, and governors can directly petition for more stringent standards/requirements.

Michigan’s ballast water permit (based on 2005 legislation) has, since 2007, required ocean-going vessels to treat ballast water before discharge using one of four approved methods or certify that there was no discharge, LeSage said, adding Minnesota and Wisconsin have similar laws.

LeSage said each Great Lakes state and province has an aquatic invasive species specialist who can serve as a resource to legislators. (A list of specialists is here.)

VIDA also authorized $50 million for a Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species program. Congress has not yet appropriated any money for the program, however. (The program was authorized for only five years, LeSage noted.

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Federal Legislation Issues S/P Legislation Web Meeting

Quarterly webinar gives annual overview of federal, state/provincial legislation

Members of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus got their annual update on federal, state and provincial legislation in a June 5 webinar.

Matthew McKenna, director of the Great Lakes Washington Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute, provided an overview of recent and pending federal legislation in the U.S. Congress, starting with the reality that “we’re in uncharted territory here with the (COVID-19) pandemic.”

Congress has already committed $2 trillion through four bills (now laws) to myriad forms of pandemic relief, and a fifth bill is pending – the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, approved by the House of Representatives on May 15, just three days after it was introduced.

This bill, H.R. 6800, would direct $500 billion to state governments and $375 billion to local governments in two segments: $250 billion immediately followed in a year after passage by $125 billion.

While the U.S. Senate has not yet taken up H.R. 6800, it is working on America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S.3591) and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act (S.3590), the former of which includes $375 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for Fiscal Year 2022, and final authorization of the Brandon Road project (along with an improved federal/non-federal partner cost share to 75 percent/25 percent [from 65/35]). Both bills have been reported in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.

McKenna also shared a section-by-section analysis of the DWIA along with highlights of the bill.

Also pending in the Senate, he said, is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019 (S.2295), which would re-authorize the GLRI for five more years and ramp up funding by $50 million per year to $475 million annually by Fiscal Year 2026. (An identical bill, H.R. 4031, passed the House 373-45 on Feb. 5.)

Moreover, the House’s version of a new surface transportation authorization bill focuses on climate change mitigation and resilience, so may provide additional funds for programs to benefit the Great Lakes, McKenna said.

Attendees got a roundup of recent developments in state and provincial legislatures from the Caucus’ Executive Committee. Illinois Sen. Laura Fine said HB 2650, which became law last July, prioritizes disadvantaged communities for lead pipe removal funding. Minnesota Rep. Jennifer Schultz said the state became the first to ban trichloroethelyne (TCE), an industrial solvent linked to cancer, when SF 4073 was signed into law on May 16.

The webinar included a brief business session.

Caucus Director Lisa Janairo provided a brief business update including cancellation of the Annual Meeting which had been scheduled for Sept. 18-19 in Detroit, renewal of The Joyce Foundation’s grant, and launch of the Caucus’ new website.

Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque reported the Task Force on Nutrient Management in its May 8 conference call discussed ideas for a list of policy priorities to advance in next year’s legislative sessions, while acknowledging the reality that, with the states and provinces grappling with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, expectations must be tempered for what can be accomplished in 2021.

A summer workshop to continue hands-on education about nutrient pollution will be postponed until 2021, he added.  

Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest reported the Nominating Committee will make arrangements to replace the in-person voting that would have taken place at the Detroit meeting, and that the nominating period will open from June 15 through July 13. The GLLC will elect two officers and 10 members of the Executive Committee to serve two-year terms starting on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Nominating Committee includes Reps. Tim Butler and Jonathan Carroll from Illinois, Sen. Tina Maharath and Rep. John Patterson from Ohio, MNA Gilles Bélanger from Québec, and Sens. Rest and Dave Senjem from Minnesota.

The slidedeck and recording of the web meeting are available.