GLWP Hill Happenings June 2014

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Jan 13, 2015 No Comments ›› admin

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Appropriations and Budget
    • Updated numbers for Great Lakes program funding for FY2012-15 request
    • The House passed the CJS bill and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bills, which include funding for NOAA, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp, and Community Development Block Grants
    • Agriculture, Energy and Water, and State and Foreign Operation bills are expected in July in the House and potentially the Senate as well; the Senate has posted its report for the Agriculture bill
    • Senate consideration of a mini omnibus appropriations bill that would have included CJS, THUD, and Agriculture was delayed due to controversy over amendments
  • Carl Levin introduces Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Assessment Act (S. 2556)
    • Requires NOAA to assess potential new sites for protecting historic shipwrecks and other culturally-significant areas within the Great Lakes as a National Marine Sanctuary
    • NOAA recently announced a new process for nominating sanctuaries, opening the door for designations
  • Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014 (S. 1254) passed and signed into law
    • Co-sponsored by Great Lakes delegation member Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
    • Passed both chambers unanimously
    • Creates a Great Lakes section to ensure that federal agencies prioritize monitoring and mitigation efforts on fresh water bodies
    • Endorsed by the Ohio Farm Bureau, The Nature Conservancy, academics, and recreational users the bill
  • Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S. 2094) receives attention from stakeholders; potential markup canceled
    • Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee “mark up” (or full consideration) of legislation, scheduled for June 24, was canceled; as part of the mark up, the Senate was scheduled to consider the U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill, and could have seen the VIDA bill offered as an amendment
    • Multiple stakeholder groups, including a coalition of environmental advocates and a coalition of commercial waterways users, have provided comments and input to the committee on the bill
    • The bill would implement fundamental changes in the vessel discharge programs within the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency
    • In particular, the bill requires a single uniform national standard, and any new state standard would have to be adopted by the nation to have effect in a state.  It also sets forth a new process for reviewing and revising the ballast water discharge standards, and creates a permanent exemption to the incidental discharge for fishing vessels.

EVENTS/BRIEFINGS

NEMWI hosts four Great Lakes Briefings: Innovative Monitoring Technology, GLRI FY2015-19 Draft Action Plan, Wastewater Infrastructure, and Asian Carp Monitoring

The NEMWI’s Great Lakes Washington Program hosted four briefings in June regarding issues within the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Task Force co-chairs, Sens. Carl Levin (MI) and Mark Kirk (IL), and Reps. Candice Miller (MI-10), John Dingell (MI-12), Sean Duffy (WI-07) and Louise Slaughter (NY-25), served as honorary co-sponsors of the briefings.

BRIEFING RECAP: 21st Century Innovation in Great Lakes Monitoring: Fisheries Science and Technology

The briefing, entitled “21st Century Innovation in Great Lakes Monitoring: Fisheries Science and Technology,” took place on Tuesday, June 10. Speakers from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center, and Michigan Tech University’s Great Lakes Research Center highlighted the many partners-federal, state, local, tribal, and academia-involved in monitoring the Great Lakes ecosystem, which supports a $7 billion fishery industry. The speakers focused on new technology implemented in the Great Lakes, such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative-funded acoustic telemetry network, which brings new information, like fish movement and behavior, to managers despite more and complex ecosystem stressors. Additionally, the speakers noted that winter weather currently prevents critical observations. A binational Great Lakes wide, year-round hybrid-observatory system could address this “scientific blindness.”

BRIEFING RECAP: GLRI Draft FY2015-19 Action Plan
The briefing, entitled “GLRI Draft FY2015-19 Action Plan,” held on Wednesday, June 11, featured speakers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They discussed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Program (GLRI), including past successes and the recently-released draft FY2015-19 Action Plan. The next Action Plan will direct the priorities and efforts for the coming five years. Highlights of the draft plan include:

  • Incorporation of Government Accountability Office recommendations to refine the Measures of Progress to more fully encompass success of all GLRI-funded projects and begin the steps to incorporate climate resiliency into projects to prevent climate change from undermining success;
  • A continued emphasis on Asian carp control measures, among controls on other invasive species like the wetland plant Phragmites, sea lamprey, and zebra mussels; and
  • Assumption of an annual base level of funding of $275 million over the Action Plan (down from $475 million assumed during the previous Action Plan and lower than recent appropriations of $300 million).

NEMWI’s short summary and side-by-side of the Draft Action Plan is available here.

BRIEFING RECAP: Great Lakes Wastewater Infrastructure

On Monday, June 23, 2014, the NEMWI hosted a Capitol Hill briefing, entitled “How to keep the waste out of the Great Lakes: Regional challenges and successes in wastewater infrastructure,” on challenges and innovations for wastewater infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. Joel Brammeier, Executive Director for the Great Lakes Alliance, provided background on the many issues in the Great Lakes that stem from declining infrastructure, including combined sewer overflows, closed beaches, and algal blooms. He also discussed federal funding resources for water infrastructure projects, including Clean Water State Revolving Funds (funded at $1.45 B in FY2014) that are the main source for gray infrastructure projects, like upgrades in wastewater treatment plant technology, storage facilities, and pipes. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative does not fund gray infrastructure but does provide support for green infrastructure projects, such as  rain gardens, and restored green spaces. Darnella Robertson, Manager of Government Affairs for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, discussed the background of the Sewer District, their Consent Decree in 2010 requiring them to improve their infrastructure, and the high costs and limited sources of revenue available to them. She also noted that improvements in policy could help municipalities, such as additional flexibility in payments and infrastructure options. The Sewer District estimated the cost of complying with the Consent Decree at $3 billion over 30 years, which will include funding for at least 12 green infrastructure projects. Bill Schleizer, Managing Director of the Delta Institute, discussed his work linking rural and urban water users to meet water quality compliance standards. Their work focuses on Wisconsin, where a nutrient trading pilot project may help to decrease the overall costs of compliance by aligning funding and incentives to reduce non-point and point source reduction. He noted these approaches require flexibility and adaptive management in order to implement lessons learned. The speakers closed by stating that grant money for infrastructure is almost non-existent, so flexibility is critical to complying with the required water quality standards.

BRIEFING RECAP: Asian Carp Monitoring Framework

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, the NEMWI hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on the 2014 Asian Carp Monitoring Framework. Cam Davis, Senior Advisor to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), kicked off the briefing by discussing how this fifth framework reflects the shift in the Asian carp response in the Great Lakes basin shift from crisis mode to a more planned and focused approach. He, along with John Goss (Council on Environmental Quality; Chair of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee), emphasized the role of science-based decision making and increased use of technology, field testing, and focused approaches to combat Asian carp. Mr. Goss also highlighted the formation of the Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) Forum, a group of federal and non-federal entities working to gain agreement on next steps following the release of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s GLMRIS report. Rip Shively, U.S. Geological Survey, discussed some of the innovative technologies they will test this year, including expanded use of waterguns and carbon dioxide to see fish response and behavior. They will study how these technologies can help further prevent movement of invasive fish to the Great Lakes basin as well as potentially transfer that technology to other systems. Todd Turner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted ongoing monitoring efforts and the increase in efforts in 2014 below the electrical barriers in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and at the leading edge of the carp movement. Dave Wethington, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, highlighted the construction and anticipated completion of the third electrical barrier by late 2016 and the complex jurisdiction and multiple uses that occur within the CAWS. Lastly, Bill Bolen, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, discussed the shift in the federal agencies’ budgets from primarily Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds to base budgets, conveying longer-term stability to the programs. He also noted additional initiatives for 2014, supported by the framework: first, as a follow on to the GLMRIS report, the framework will support the efforts of the GLMRIS Forum to find agreement on next steps and a Transportation Study to determine options to reduce impacts on the transportation industry; the second initiative supports the separation work ongoing at Eagle Marsh in Indiana and Little Killibuck Creek in Ohio.

LETTERS

House Sends Letter to Department of Agriculture on Proposed Increase in Inspection Fees

Led by Great Lakes Task Force Members Reps. Dan Benishek (MI-01) and Rick Nolan (MN-08), seven Members sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, expressing concern about the impacts of a proposed inspection fee increase for vessels. The proposed increase would raise the inspection fee from $496 to $825 while removing the annual cap on the number of times a vessel pays the fee. The members noted concerns for maintaining protections against invasive species, which can potentially be transmitted through vessel cargo, and requested an extension of the comment period to review the proposed fee increases across all transportation categories. The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended the comment period by 30 days, now closing on July 24, 2014. Industry representatives, including the Lake Carriers Association, have also submitted comments.

Great Lakes Task Force Members and Delegation receive response to questions on GLMRIS

In March and April, the Great Lakes Delegation Members in the House and Senate, including Great Lakes Task Force Co-Chairs Sen. Carl Levin (MI) and Reps. Candice Miller (MI-10), John Dingell (MI-12), Sean Duffy (WI-07), and Louise Slaughter (NY-25), sent companion letters to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, requesting additional information regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study. The study looked at the potential for species to transfer between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, focusing the Chicago Area Waterway System. The letters asked questions regarding what the Corps plans to do with the remaining FY2014 funding for GLMRIS, what steps and partners would be needed to implement the non-structural options identified in Alternative 2 of the GLMRIS report, whether the Corps will undertake an independent peer review of the GLMRIS report, needs to fully study the Brandon Road option, among others. The Corps’ response noted the amount of funding projected to be left over from FY2014 ($1.5 M), as well as the potential to further study aquatic nuisance species control technologies like the GLMRIS Lock.

ADMINISTRATION

Draft FY2015-19 GLRI Action Plan Released

The FY2010-14 Action for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year in September. The administration has released its Draft Action Plan for FY2015-19, on which numerous webinars and a Capitol Hill briefing will be held. Public comment is still open.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Great Lakes Restoration Conference | September 9-11 | Amway Grand Plaza Hotel | Grand Rapids, Michigan

Great Lakes Commission Annual Meeting |September 29-30 | Hyatt Regency Buffalo Hotel and Conference Center | Buffalo, New York

THE GREAT LAKES “FUNNY”

Ice in Lake Superior… into June???