Conservation leaders at The Nature Conservancy today called last week's introduction of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act a bold step in the right direction to protect the world's largest freshwater system, but cautioned those who expected an easy passage.
"The Great Lakes have been historically underfunded," said David Thomas, trustee for the Conservancy in Illinois and chief emeritus for the Illinois Natural History Survey. "Last year's passage of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides us a tremendous foundation from which to start, but restoring the Great Lakes is a monumental task that will take years to complete. With the introduction of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act, Congress has explicitly stated what the Nation's commitment to the Great Lakes should be in the coming years."
The Legislation was introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D–MI) and Congressman Vern Ehlers, (R–MI) simultaneously in the Senate and House and co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of elected officials from the Great Lakes, including Senators Voinovich (R–OH), Brown (D–OH), Durbin (D–IL), Klobuchar (D–MN) and Franken (D–MN). Co-sponsors in the House include Representatives Dingell (D–MI), Kirk (R–IL) and Slaughter (D–NY). If passed, $650 million over the next five years could funnel into the basin — the largest federal investment ever in the watershed that supports 35 million people.
"These bills are a very positive Congressional action towards our efforts to restore our valuable Great Lakes resources. We applaud these members of Congress for this bold move and will support them every step along the way," said Thomas.
The legislation is next expected to be heard in committee meetings on Capitol Hill for passage by end of this year. "We remain optimistic that Congress will recognize that these bills are a smart investment for the country and take action quickly," said Susan Donovan, director of government relations. "In 2008, in the midst of a contentious election cycle and a tough economy Congress passed the Great Lakes St.Lawrence River Basin Compact in just a few weeks and we are confident they can do the same with the Great Lakes Ecosystem Restoration Act.”
The Nature Conservancy is working to make the Great Lakes the best managed freshwater ecosystem in the world.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.