Stop blaming the Army Corps of Engineers

Gary Wilson

Commentary:

This week…  separate but equally important topics.

Stop scape-goating the Army Corps

We’re rapidly approaching the three year anniversary of the discovery of Asian carp environmental DNA past electrical barriers designed to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. That event triggered massive fish kills, lawsuits, a call for separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River and a flood of media exposure that shows no signs of abating.

Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers, proprietors of the barriers, insists they’ve been effective. Lawsuits brought by Michigan and other states requesting definitive and quicker action by the Army Corps continues to wind its way through the legal system. And studies to determine the feasibility and cost of physical separation are in process.

Through it all there has been one consistent theme: Blame the Army Corps of Engineers.

Everyone needs a scapegoat it seems and politicians, environmentalists and editorial boards have found one in the Corps. The complaints: It’s too slow, bureaucratic and even “clueless,” according to one editorial writer.

You’ll find no defense of the Corps here. It needs to be held accountable like everyone else. But the Army Corps is only a small part of a big federal picture charged with protecting the Great Lakes from Asian Carp.

One policy analyst with years of Great Lakes experience recently made that case.

Noah Hall says “all three branches of the federal government aren’t doing the job” when it comes to keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Writing in his Great Lakes Law blog, he says the president, Supreme Court and Congress have “failed miserably in upholding their constitutional duties.” Hall is a law professor at Wayne State University and was the founding executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

Hall points out that Congress has not passed any legislation designed to stop the carp advance. A 2010 bill that would have addressed the concerns that Michigan and the others states raised in their lawsuit had no support and died in committee.

To his point about congressional carp malaise, even the bill that ordered the Army Corps to expedite its separation study languished for two years. In a last ditch effort its sponsors resorted to legislative chicanery and attached it to a must pass highway funding bill. (Both political parties in Congress love to fund highway bills.)

That’s hardly a mandate for action and the Army Corps recognizes that. But it allows supporters to claim a victory, albeit one more about appearance than substance.

Kudos to Hall for looking past the rhetorical veneer and raising the federal curtain to expose the other bad actors, especially Congress.

The next time someone decides to take a shot at the Army Corps about Asian carp perhaps they should direct their barbs at their representative or senators too – maybe one of those senators who is billed as a champion of the Great Lakes.

Looking in my own backyard Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk come to mind.

Remember, it was Durbin who, on hearing that Michigan was filing a law suit, said it would be better to

Environmental groups face test as they prep for Waukesha’s Great Lakes diversion request

Things are heating up with the Waukesha, Wis. request to divert Lake Michigan water based on provisions of the Great Lakes Compact. The city has tentatively selected a supplier community and deadlines are looming as it needs to replace water from radium-contaminated wells.

Waukesha is under a federal mandate to find another source of water by 2018.

The common wisdom is that Waukesha’s request will be the first test of the Compact. The first test was actually the water law written by business interests where Ohio essentially snubbed its nose at the landmark eight-state deal.

But Waukesha is still hyper-important as it could set precedent for future diversion requests.

The region’s environmental groups have taken note and are tracking Waukesha’s application.

The National Wildlife Federation and some of its partner organizations recently spent two days touring Waukesha and areas related to the potential diversion. They visited relevant sites and heard presentations from key players.

The federation’s Marc Smith said it was a fact finding mission that will help inform their comments when it comes time for them to weigh in. Smith is a senior policy manager with the federation’s Ann Arbor Great Lakes office and is heavily involved with Compact issues.

I asked Smith about a controversial aspect of Waukesha’s request – the fact that it is requesting more water than it needs and it includes an expanded service area.

Smith said that’s a potential red flag. In its normal course of business Waukesha could work with the state and expand its service area. However its request for Great Lakes water comes under the provisions of the Compact and “is not business as usual.”

“If Waukesha’s diversion application includes an expanded service area, that area must have a demonstrated need otherwise the request raises questions about its compliance with the Compact.”

The groups are wise to be on the ground in Wisconsin as there is no substitute for first-hand knowledge.

Hopefully it signals that they will apply the needed rigor to their process on whether to support or oppose Waukesha’s request. Seven Great Lakes governors must approve the diversion and  some will look to environmental groups for guidance.

After the Compact became law in 2008 one environmental executive told me that they gave up a lot, “too much,” in order to secure its passage. He said they’d have to get it back later, which is now.

Waukesha is the place to start.

Their credibility is on the line and more importantly, so is the viability of the Great Lakes Compact.

3 thoughts on “Stop blaming the Army Corps of Engineers

  1. Look at the early stuff about the “temp” barrier, they didn’t really get excited until the EDNA showed up. The recent map of the 1500 mile boundary we have to keep the carp from crossing, who you gonna blame?

  2. On reflection, I should have mentioned that Ill. Sen Mark Kirk is co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, a bi-partisan effort to work on Great Lakes issues. Mi. Sen. Carl Levin serves as Kirk’s co-chair.

  3. Thanks to Pattie Burkholtz, her Nestle Ice Mountain money, and the large no deposit loopholes the Republicans are now selling the Great Lakes water nationwide.

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