Chicago influence, toothless legislation, Wisconsin rollbacks, EPA elitism

Commentary

By Gary Wilson

This week, a status report on issues from past commentaries.  Plus a what were they thinking comment about the U.S. EPA.

Chicago’s influence on the Great Lakes continues

In January I wrote about the disproportionate influence Illinois people and entities have on Great Lakes policy, given that Illinois only has a few miles of Lake Michigan shore.

Not much has changed as evidenced by an April Asian Carp Summit held at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

The Obama administration conducted a public meeting to provide an update on its “unprecedented, multi-tiered strategy” to keep the voracious feeders out of Lake Michigan.

Sounds good, but why have that meeting in Chicago?

Most Chicagoan’s aren’t that worried about Asian Carp and would generally support the administration’s efforts as long as it maintains the status quo of Chicago’s 19th century waterway system, which it does.

But take that “summit meeting” to Cleveland or Toledo on the shore of Lake Erie and you may get a different response. Lake Erie is the most vulnerable of the Great Lakes to an Asian Carp invasion as its   fishery dwarfs that of the other Great Lakes. Veteran journalist Tom Henry recently wrote in the Echo that “western Lake Erie is ground zero for the Asian Carp crisis.”

I know, the meeting warranted the perfunctory webcast and the administration’s point-man on carp, John Goss,  telling the administration’s story. But why not make western Lake Erie the base camp for major carp meetings?

Not every major Great Lakes issue has to revolve around the Chicago power base.

A bill about appearances has no takers

In February I commented on the bill introduced by four Illinois legislators led by Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin to reduce sewage dumping into the Great Lakes.

The essence of the legislation is to start fining municipalities 20 years from now if they are still dumping sewage. That Illinois legislative contingent singled out Detroit as the major problem and Milwaukee has long been Kirk’s favorite sewage dumping  whipping boy.

Chicago has the least  exposure as most of its raw sewage goes out the Chicago River toward St. Louis.

The bills have attracted no other Congressional sponsors. I wrote two weeks ago that the bill “lacks credibility on its face.”

I’ll stand by that statement until there is bi-partisan support from around the region.

More bad enviro news from Wisconsin

In March I commented on Gov. Scott Walker’s attempts to roll back essential environmental protections in historically progressive Wisconsin. His actions included eliminating mandatory recycling, weakening phosphorus regulations, and giving special interests exemptions from wetland regulations.

It couldn’t get any worse in Wisconsin, right?

Wrong!

Now Wisconsin majority legislators are trying to fast-track a bill before the end of the legislative session on June 30th. The bill would allow for an accelerated review of the open pit mining permit process.

Why the rush?

Recall elections are scheduled for July and the Republican majority wants to pass the mine permitting legislation now in case it loses its majority.

Why is that a priority?

Well, Gogebic Taconite is proposing an open pit mine  in Northwest Wisconsin and the proposed legislation would limit the permit review process to 300 days – a nano-second in permitting time.

Issuing mining permits is complex and needs to take as much time as it needs to take. That’s because the environmental degradation that can result from a failed mining operation can last for decades, well after the jobs it created are gone.

Veteran progressive Wisconsin political observer Jim Rowen is outraged.

He has called for nothing less than “the same level of public awareness and organizational commitment” that goes after restoration money and that fought for the Great Lakes Compact to combat the “blatant disregard for water and land in northwest Wisconsin.”

I agree with you Jim, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an outcry from any Great Lakes coalition, collaboration, council, initiative or commission – the groups that engineered passage of the Compact.

Last I checked they see Wisconsin’s environmental protection rollbacks as best handled in Wisconsin, despite the spillover effect to other states.

U.S EPA: Concerned citizens,  know your place

Finally, this from the William Walter at the U.S. EPA Great Lakes office in Chicago. Walter is an environmental scientist and Presidential Management Fellow.

He recently announced a “public call” to seek input on how to spend future federal Great Lakes restoration money.

But the notice said “we plan to encourage people who are representatives of groups or coalitions of groups to identify themselves and speak first.”

Memo to the EPA: Prioritizing groups and coalitions over an individual concerned citizen does the democratic process a disservice.

Great Lakes coalitions and groups are professionals who already have access to legislators and agency staff. Their calls are returned by the D.C. power structure and they tend to have an ongoing presence in Washington.

Professional staff generates press releases drumming out their message. In short, they already have access to decision makers and are heard separate from a public meeting process.

Good for them and the work they do.

But to shunt an average concerned citizen to the back of the line is an injustice to those determined few individuals who show up without prepackaged talking points.

Yes, sometimes they’re inarticulate and narrowly focused. I’m sure I’ve been that way at public comment meetings. But their views can also be incisive, on the mark and without an agenda except to remedy a problem.

No matter, they’re engaged which is what we want.

Don’t we?

Give them the time and courtesy they deserve at the next “public meeting.”

  • Gary Wilson

    Vicki,

    I assume that government agencies – EPA, NOAA, and others – have mechanisms to communicate with each other.

    To my point, the NGO’s – “coalitions and collaborations” – also have a lot of access to agency staff and legislators as I illustrated in the commentary.

    So I’m not sure why they should be given a priority over individual concerned citizens or small non-affiliated groups.

    Minimally, the wording in Mr. Walters’ announcement sent the wrong message.

    Hopefully it’s just a lapse in choice of words and not a sign of an institutional bias.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Gary Wilson

  • Vicki

    EPA held a listening session for governmental bodies the week before. I understood the comment to mean that the governmental types had their opportunity already and the NGOs were given a priority on this call. Maybe the explanation could have been clearer.

  • Gary Wilson

    Thanks Jim for the heads up.

    Echo readers – if you’re concerned about the environmental protection rollbacks in Wisconsin, Rowen’s site is a must read.

    http://www.thepoliticalenvironment.blogspot.com

    Gary Wilson

  • jimrowen

    Read about Walker’s plan to remake the DNR into a pro-business agency:
    http://thepoliticalenvironment.blogspot.com/2011/05/pro-business-dnr-charter-agency.html

  • Paul

    Dave– You got it.

  • http://CoverThePlanet.org David Poulson

    Hi Paul,

    I don’t know about sage status, but Gary has got a large public platform now.
    Want to enlarge it? Send the link across your networks. We’re always looking to drive more traffic to Echo.

    Thanks

  • Paul

    Mr. Wilson is a sage and deserves a much larger public platform to hold those who would despoil the Great Lakes Region accountable for their actions. Sadly, he is one of only a few who, crying in the wilderness, are drowned out by the drumbeat of the despoilers.

    We, who value our region, our nation, and our planet for their life sustaining natural systems are losing the battle to the greed and avarice of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate interests. Our nation is on the fast track to becoming a fascist corporatocracy, where only the powers-that-be will have input. We, concerned citizens, will be irrelevant and relegated to being fodder for the designs of CEOs.

  • Eric

    Thank you, Gary, for your insights. I had never thought about the influence of Chicago special interests until this article. The really outrageous part of this is when you look at the map of the waters of the basin, realize how little of the basin lies within Illinois. Yet
    Chicago alone uses 1 billion gallons per day. The Chicago River is one of the largest diversions of the Great Lakes (another billion gallons), and is the potential source of invasive species such as the Asian Carp. Then let’s throw in the pollution.
    Other aspects of the article about Wisconsin is depressing. It seems like the Great Lakes are under full attack when you add everything else going on around the basin similar to Wisconsin.