July 31, 2008

Ratification of Great Lakes Accord Finds Its Outlook Bright in Congress

By Phillip Lucas, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Jul. 31--WASHINGTON -- Ratification of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact gained even more momentum Wednesday as the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously for the bill's passage.

The compact is an effort of states in the Great Lakes region to prevent the lakes' water from being offered to states facing water shortages.

"I think it's a situation where everybody's a winner, and nobody is a loser," Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said during the committee's markup session.

In a separate hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee acknowledged the compact's importance, stressing that protection of the Great Lakes is an urgent bipartisan effort.

"I have settled a number of matters in this committee. I can't think of one that's as slam-dunk as this," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., ranking member of the committee.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, DWis., committee chairman, said he looks forward to passing the bill in the very near future as the legislative session draws to a close.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, sent a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging her to bring the bill to the floor of the House before representatives take a five-week vacation. Reynolds said action on ratifying the compact this week would be the best way for Pelosi to demonstrate her commitment to the environment.

"I am sure the citizens of the eight states and multitudes of backers of this compact, including two of your strongest allies, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel and Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, would support such immediate action," Reynolds said in his letter, referring to Democratic members of the House from Illinois and Western New York, respectively.

President Bush on Monday endorsed ratification of the compact and urged Congress to act quickly on its approval. Bush is ready to sign it as soon as it is voted on in the Senate, according to Reynolds' office.

Bush and many others have noted that the Great Lakes are a vast and essential national resource, with 95 percent of the country's supply of freshwater in this region, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

However, Cameron Davis, president and chief executive officer of the alliance, says that as large as the lakes are, there nevertheless is a limit to how much water is available, which is why the compact needs to be promptly ratified.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N. Y., said the water supplies in the region will be put under even more strain in the coming years with added demand based on a growing population and increased energy needs.

"We don't know what these changes will mean for the lakes," Schumer said, "but we do know how important it is to keep them healthy."

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