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Issues: Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are one of the world’s most important natural resources and an essential component of what makes Michigan such a wonderful place to do business and raise a family. As co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, Senator Levin has worked tirelessly to protect and clean up our lakes.

The Great Lakes support 550,000 jobs in our state - about one of every seven jobs statewide. They play a huge role in generating the $18.8 billion added to Michigan’s economy through tourism. They provide drinking water to tens of millions of people; save Michigan manufacturers more than $1 billion annually by providing easy access to shipping; and support a $5 billion annual fishing industry.

But today the Great Lakes are threatened by pollution from industrial discharges, PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxic substances. Contaminated sediments that have settled at the bottom of harbors and tributaries must be cleaned up quickly, before they move into the open waters of the Great Lakes. The damage caused by invasive species such as the zebra mussel, Eurasian ruffe, and sea lamprey must be reduced, and efforts must be made to halt future invasions by non-native species.

That’s why Senator Levin has fought for funding to restore the health of the Great Lakes and has worked to unite interested parties to develop a comprehensive restoration plan. In 2008, he took a leading role in passing the Great Lakes Compact and the Great Lakes Legacy Act, two pieces of legislation essential to conserving and rehabilitating the health of the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Compact builds upon existing protections to implement new water management protocols and establishes specific benchmarks for water conservation for the first time. The measure also bans future water diversions from the Great Lakes Basin and keeps water management authority in the region with stakeholders who have incentive to protect the lakes.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act was reauthorized in 2008 to provide new funding to clean up contaminated sediment in and around the lakes. The original Great Lakes Legacy Act, enacted in 2002, resulted in the removal almost 800,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, protecting wildlife and human health alike.

In the current Congress, Senator Levin is a leading supporter of a project to build a second 1,000-foot lock in Sault Sainte Marie, to act as a safeguard if the existing lock fails. Additionally, he worked across the aisle with Ohio Senator George Voinovich to introduce legislation that would limit the level of phosphates in dishwashing detergent in order to reduce chemical levels in the Great Lakes and protect aquatic flora and fauna.

Senators Levin and Voinovich have also worked together to introduce the bipartisan Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act (GLCIA). It implements many of the recommendations developed by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, formed in 2005 by numerous groups and more than 1,500 individual activists.

The GLCIA has a number of provisions aimed at protecting and restoring the Great Lakes. For example, it would create screening processes to help mitigate the impact of invasive species; establish a new government grant program to help reduce mercury used in products that ultimately end up polluting the lakes; and authorize a new $50 million grant for clean-up projects identified by the Regional Collaboration.

With a partner in the White House who understands the need to restore and protect our cherished Great Lakes ecosystem, Senator Levin is optimistic about the prospects of passing the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act during the current Congress.