Carp and Compacts: Two big retirements affect Great Lakes policy


U.S. Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who focused on the Great Lakes, won't seek reelection

Last week brought two big retirement announcements with Great Lakes political implications.

The first came from U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak. The Michigan Democrat recently found himself in the center of the health care debate because he threatened to break with his party and vote against the bill over abortion rights.

Stupak eventually voted for health care reform. But in 2008, Stupak broke with both parties and cast one of only 25 votes against the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between the Great Lakes states that prevents most water diversions and promotes water conservation.

Stupak argues the compact wasn’t tough enough on privatization, commercialization and exportation. While most Great Lakes lawmakers and advocates think the compact is just fine, Stupak and relatively few others argue that a loophole would allow companies to bottle and sell millions of gallons of Great Lakes water.

Stupak introduced a resolution in June 2009 that he said would clarify Congress’s intent in ratifying the Great Lakes water compact and “put Congress on record in opposition to the exploitation of Great Lakes waters.” The resolution has been in the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law since July.

Last October  Stupak introduced legislation to limit phosphorus in detergents and require the EPA to review research and recommend action on excess nutrients in the Great Lakes. That bill is also stuck in committee.

The other retirement is that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The Great Lakes connection here is less clear — even fishy.

U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan is reportedly the leading candidate to replace Stevens. If her names sounds familiar, it could be because she wrote the court memo outlining the federal government’s opposition to Michigan’s legal efforts to slow the invading Asian carp by forcing Illinois to slam shut locks around Lake Michigan.

U.S. Solicitor General and Supreme Court candidate Elena Kagan has already dabbled in carp law. Photo: Doc Searls, via Flickr

She also opposes Michigan’s petition to reopen a decades-old Supreme Court case on the re-jiggering of Chicago’s waterways that connected the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes basin in the first place. The court is scheduled to consider that request today.

With Stupak gone, the Great Lakes lose a veteran moderate who maintained a 65 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters while serving a conservative district.

And while Kagan revitalized Harvard’s environmental law program, Great Lakes attorneys general can’t take her vote for granted if she makes it to the bench before the carp case is closed.

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