Great Lakes color

The Great Lakes Legislative Caucus is a nonpartisan, binational group of state and provincial lawmakers from eight U.S. states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Qu é bec). Sen. Darwin Booher serves as chair of the caucus.
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All state and provincial legislators from the Great Lakes region are eligible to become caucus members. Membership is free. Benefits include having a voice on Great Lakes policy and helping direct caucus activities and priorities.  

The Midwestern Office of The Council of State Governments provides staffing services for the caucus. Financial support for the caucus is provided in part by The Joyce Foundation.


For information on caucus activities, please contact Lisa Janairo at 920.458.5910 or Tim Anderson or  Mike McCabe  at 630.925.1922.

Change in leadership: Michigan Sen. Darwin Booher takes over as chair of caucus for retiring Wisconsin Rep. Cory Mason

Michigan Sen. Darwin Booher, a longtime leader in and active
Sen. Darwin Booher, GLLC chair
member of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus, is now heading the nonpartisan, binational group of legislators as its chair .

He succeeds Wisconsin Rep. Cory Mason, who recently was elected mayor of Racine and is leaving the state Assembly. Sen. Booher is the fourth state legislator to hold the position of Great Lakes Legislative Caucus chair. The other three are Rep. Mason, Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest and former Michigan Sen. Patricia Birkholz.

The transition in leadership was announced during the caucus's quarterly web meeting on Dec. 1. Sen. Booher will preside over the group's web meetings in 2018 as well as its annual meeting in Erie, Penn., on Sept. 20-22. Members will elect a new leadership team at that meeting. The next two quarterly web meetings are scheduled for 9 a.m. Central Time/10 a.m. Eastern Time on March 2 and June 1.
New safeguards in place amid continuing concerns about potential for oil spill from 64-year-old pipeline in Great Lakes

Concerns about twin, 64-year-old pipelines located under the Straits of Mackinac (which connect lakes Michigan and Huron) led to a new agreement in late November between the state of Michigan and Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the pipeline.  In announcing the deal, Gov. Rick Snyder said "business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable." 
Map of Line 5 from Enbridge

According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has been frustrated about a "lack of forthrightness" regarding the safety of these pipelines, which are known as "Line 5" and carry up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids every day. Under the agreement, Enbridge must:
  • install a new pipe in a portion of Line 5 that runs beneath the St. Clair River (with permit applications for this project filed no later than Feb. 28);
  • study the feasibility of replacing the 645-mile Line 5 with a pipeline that would be built in a tunnel below the Straits of Mackinac (that study must be prepared by June 15); and 
  • take various measures to minimize the chances of an oil spill, including a shutdown of Line 5 operations during adverse weather conditions.

Some groups have called for a decommissioning of Line 5. 

Looking to keep invasive species from entering Great Lakes, state and federal legislators push for movement on Asian carp plan 

Through legislative resolutions along with letters sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, caucus members and other lawmakers from the Great Lakes region are pressing for progress on plans to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. 

Adding control measures at the  Brandon Road Lock and Dam has been identified as a way to prevent Asian carp from being established in the lakes.  A study of what to do at this site has been years in the making, and in early August, t he U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled its  tentatively selected plan, which has an estimated price tag of $275 million.

A public comment period on the Army Corps' plan ended on Dec. 8. Under the current schedule for the project, a final plan for Brandon Road would be submitted to the U.S. Congress for authorization in August 2019.

Overview of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "tentatively selected plan" (image from Army Corps)

In 2017, 'severe' algal blooms once again observed in Lake Erie

In late June, heavy rains fell on the Maumee River, which begins in Fort Wayne in Indiana, runs through agricultural areas in northeast Ohio, and eventually flows into Lake Erie in Toledo. The river, scientists say, has high concentrations of phosphorus, and with all of the spring and summer precipitation, those nutrients discharged into the smallest of the five Great Lakes. 

The end result: One of the worst observable algal blooms in Lake Erie. According to the   National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only the years 2011, 2013 and 2015 had more severe blooms. The federal agency's findings were the latest reminder of the "poor" and "deteriorating" health of Lake Erie (see table), and of the importance of states and the province of Ontario reaching their agreed-upon goal: reduce nutrient runoff into the lake by 40 percent by 2025.

A recent study from the Alliance for the Great Lakes  and other environmental groups says that in order to meet the 40 percent reduction goal, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario have to do more. "Rescuing Lake Erie: An Assessment of Progress," details 12 policy actions and singles out three as most urgent: 1) require comprehensive nutrient-reduction planning on all farms, 2) completely ban the winter spreading of fertilizer and manure, and 3) invest in stronger water quality monitoring.

In December, the caucus focused its web meeting on strategies to reduce nutrient runoff. Santina Wortman, a physical scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was the featured speaker. She told the caucus that reaching the 40 percent target was possible "through the widespread adoption of conservation practices targeted to the areas where they are needed the most."

Federal legislative update: Proposed National Park along shoreline of Great Lakes, future of Restoration Initiative and bill to prevent algal blooms 

Throughout the year, the caucus follows state, provincial and federal bills related to the Great Lakes and water policy. Here is an update on some of the recent activity at the federal level.
  • The U.S. House has approved legislation to designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a National Park, a move that U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky says would rightly reflect this area as a "natural wonder."
  • Though there appears to be strong, bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate to keep funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at current levels ($300 million a year), the fate of the program remains uncertain due to the lack of a budget agreement for fiscal year 2018. For those seeking updates on congressional proposals related to the initiative, the Healing Our Waters Coalition is a good resource.
  • A bipartisan measure was introduced to better prepare for, mitigate and respond to algal blooms. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act seeks to improve interagency and interstate collaborations on harmful algal blooms; provide disaster-like funding when communities are affected by an "event of national significance"; and allow private donations to fund recovery efforts from such an event.
Update on state legislation related to water quality, Great Lakes

Here is the some of the state-level legislative activity that the caucus has been monitoring during the last few months of 2017. 
  • In Wisconsin, legislators passed a bill to increase the amount of state grant money available to fix or replace contaminated wells or failing septic systems (AB 226).
  • A legislative proposal (HB 5095) in Michigan would remove the state's existing ballast water discharge requirements for oceangoing vessels and instead adopt the U.S. Coast Guard regulations. Rep. Dan Lauwers, the bill's sponsor and a member of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus, says the bill is needed to "restore Michigan's vital shipping industry." The Alliance for the Great Lakes says the bill, if passed, would be a "significant step backward from the state's long history of leadership in protecting the Great Lakes."
  • Also in Michigan, legislation designed to prevent nutrient runoff from agricultural operations was introduced this fall. HB 5185 and SB 639 would ban the application of manure or fertilizer on frozen or snow-covered ground. These bills were introduced by members of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus: Rep. Kevin Hertel and Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood.