Spring Edition | April 22, 2019
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence News for Legislators
Welcome to "Great Lakes-St. Lawrence News for Legislators," a quarterly newsletter for GLLC members and other legislators interested in news and activities related to the GLLC and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River.
GLLC Member News
GLLC Leadership for 2019
Since the start of the year, the GLLC has welcomed 19 new members, representing eight of the 10 jurisdictions in the basin. One of the new members is MNA Gilles Bélanger, who has been designated to serve as Quebec’s representative on the GLLC Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee added a second new member recently with the appointment of Michigan Sen. Dan Lauwers as chair of the steering committee that is developing plans for the Caucus’s inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. Under the GLLC’s rules, the chairs of any task forces or committees serve as ex officio members of the Executive Committee. 

MNA Gilles Bélanger, left, and Sen. Dan Lauwers are new members of the GLLC Executive Committee.
Caucus Task Forces and Committees
The first quarter of 2019 has been a very busy and productive time for GLLC committees and task forces.

GLLC Chair Sen. Ed Charbonneau of Indiana joined Wisconsin Rep. Amanda Stuck and Illinois Rep. Sonya Marie Harper on the Caucus’s Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Appreciation Day Task Force. The Task Force drafted a resolution to establish September 7, 2019, as Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Appreciation Day throughout the region. This action is the outcome of a GLLC resolution passed at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Erie, Pennsylvania, last September. To date, the resolution has been introduced in five states: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania. The GLLC’s state and provincial legislative tracker contains links to the resolutions in each of these states. Introductions are pending in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well; the tracker will be updated with links when they are available.

The Birkholz Institute Planning Committee organized in March for the purpose of developing plans for the inaugural institute. The concept for the institute is to take a small group of GLLC members on a “deep dive” into a specific issue on the Caucus’s policy agenda. In 2018, the GLLC piloted the concept with an institute on efforts to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. In 2019, the focus of the Birkholz Institute will be nutrient pollution from agricultural lands and urban areas. The steering committee decided to hold the institute in Detroit on October 25-27 with two preliminary web meetings to be held for Birkholz Fellows in August and September. In June, the steering committee will recruit GLLC members to attend the institute as fellows.

Joining Sen. Lauwers on the Birkholz Institute Steering Committee are Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest, Indiana Sen. Karen Tallian, Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque, and Ohio Rep. Michael Sheehy. Nicole Zacharda from the Great Lakes Commission and Lisa Janairo are assisting the steering committee in organizing the institute. Funding for the inaugural Birkholz Institute has been provided through a one-year grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. GLLC staff continue to seek additional funding for this year’s institute as well as for planning future events in 2021 and beyond.

The GLLC Task Force on Lead has finalized its model policy for reducing exposure to lead in drinking water, and the Executive Committee has accepted the task force’s recommended action plan. Phase 1 of the plan involves requiring testing of drinking water for lead in all schools and licensed child care centers, as well as encouraging all municipalities to conduct comprehensive inventories of their service lines. The task force will report on the model policy and action plan during the GLLC’s next quarterly web meeting, which will take place at 9 am Central/10 am Eastern on Friday, June 7. In addition to leading the GLLC’s efforts to implement the action plan, members of the Task Force on Lead will gather in Chicago on the morning of September 13 for a workshop to evaluate the progress achieved since the pilot policy institute in Erie and to adapt the action plan as needed. The members will also decide on a strategy for implementing Phase 2 of the plan, which focuses on full replacement of lead service lines. The workshop will take place just prior to the GLLC 2019 Annual Meeting in Chicago on September 13-14. The Caucus’s two-year project to develop the policy institute concept with a focus on drinking water was made possible by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.
GLLC Executive Committee Members Visit D.C.
In March, the Executive Committee sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Board of the Great Lakes Commission and to attend the Great Lakes Day Congressional Breakfast. This year marks the first time representatives of the GLLC went to the U.S. capital for Great Lakes Day, which is an annual gathering of Great Lakes organizations. In addition, the GLLC collaborated with the Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, and other organizations to issue “Priorities for Sustaining Great Lakes Restoration and Economic Revitalization,” which is a set of joint policy priorities for the region. The policy priorities are consistent with the GLLC’s policy agenda for 2018-2022.
The purpose of the trip to DC was to open a dialogue with the Great Lakes Commission about ways the two organizations might collaborate on key initiatives to improve water quality in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The Executive Committee had originally intended to hold its first winter meeting in conjunction with the Great Lakes Commission meeting, but the timing of the latter meeting conflicted with legislative session calendars. The Executive Committee plans to schedule a 2020 winter meeting in Washington, D.C., at a time that works better for legislators. Rep. Curt Sonney of Pennsylvania represented the Executive Committee at the meetings in Washington, D.C. Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest, past chair of the GLLC and a Great Lakes Commissioner, joined Representative Sonney and GLLC director Lisa Janairo in speaking in favor of increased interaction between the two organizations. Senator Rest and Representative Sonney also took the opportunity to thank several members of the region’s Congressional delegations for their strong support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and their leadership on Great Lakes issues. Pictured above are Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur speaking with Rep. Sonney and Minnesota Congressman Pete Stauber meeting with Sen. Rest.
Invitation to State, Provincial Legislators to Join the GLLC
The GLLC is organized around the guiding principle of assuring that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River continue to provide a plentiful source of clean, affordable water to the region’s residents, businesses and industries. The Caucus brings together members from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Québec, and Wisconsin to take coordinated regional action to promote the restoration, protection, economy, and sustainable use of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The mission of the GLLC is to take the best science-based recommendations from studies and put them into practice in the eight states and two provinces that share the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

State and provincial legislators are invited to join the GLLC. Membership in the binational, nonpartisan organization is open to legislators from the Great Lakes states and provinces who have an interest in issues related to water quality in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. There is no cost to become a member — only benefits.

Developments Related to GLLC Policy Agenda
Water Consumption
Should a state's citizens have a statutory or constitutional right to clean drinking water? Can states do more — in terms of new laws and regulations — to ensure access to safe, affordable water?

State legislatures across the basin are exploring these questions, as evidenced by the myriad bills introduced at the start of 2019. The GLLC is tracking these measures through its recently updated state and provincial legislative tracker. Here is a summary of some of the proposed legislation, along with links.

  • In Michigan, a package of bills addresses concerns about water shut-offs, the affordability of water rates for low-income households, and how local utilities set water rates. The bills are HB 4427-4432 and can be found on the Michigan Legislature's website. A separate measure would add statutory language stating that "each individual has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes."
  • New York legislators have introduced legislation that would give individuals a constitutional right to clean air and water as well as another bill that would establish a Drinking Water Bill of Rights.
  • Under Illinois' SB 175, passed by the Senate in March, a new state fund would be created to reduce the cost of drinking water in certain low-income communities.

Legislators, meanwhile, continue to pursue policies that address concerns about the health impacts of lead in drinking water. As the GLLC tracker shows, this year's legislation in the Great Lakes includes proposals to commence or expand lead testing in public schools, day care facilities and public parks, as well as to require the replacement of lead service lines.

Lastly, greater concerns about the presence of PFAS, PFOA, and other contaminants in drinking water have lawmakers seeking policy solutions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has directed the state's Department of Environmental Quality to establish PFAS drinking water standards, and legislation by Michigan Sen. Winnie Brinks (a GLLC member) would establish maximum contaminant levels for PFAS chemicals in drinking water (5 parts per trillion). Other proposals include:

  • new health-based groundwater quality standards for PFAS and PFOA in Wisconsin (SB 109, introduced by GLLC member Sen. Robert Cowles); and
  • more testing for contaminants and the establishment of new "health risk levels" in Minnesota (HF 1239, introduced by GLLC member Rep. Jean Wagenius).

In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced a PFAS Action Plan that covers areas such as cleanup, enforcement, monitoring, and research.
Aquatic Invasive Species
A federal proposal designed to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes appears to have an important new supporter — J.B. Pritzker, the recently elected governor of Illinois. Various news outlets in March and April reported on how Pritzker's position on the construction of new barriers at Brandon Road Lock and Dam (part of the Illinois Waterway System that connects the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basin) differs from his predecessor, Bruce Rauner, who opposed the project.

According to The Detroit News, Pritzker backs the idea of the project but "questions ... the $778 million price tag." Illinois' support is crucial because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan would require a nonfederal sponsor, which is typically the host jurisdiction. The Brandon Road plan calls for new barriers to stop the movement of Asian carp and other fish, but opponents of the project point to its costs and the potential impact on recreational and commercial shipping.

Toxic Substances
Two Great Lakes states recently reported significant progress and milestones in their efforts to clean up designated " Areas of Concern" within their jurisdictions. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, the Lower Menominee River is "set to become the first site in the state to be delisted as one of the most contaminated areas on the Great Lakes." In Ohio, restrictions on fish consumption in the Cuyahoga River have been removed. The river is one of Ohio's four Areas of Concern.

Cleaning up these toxic "hot spots" is one of the priorities of the U.S. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Over the initiative's first eight years, about $900 million has gone to Areas of Concern projects.

President Trump's proposed federal budget for FY 2020 called for a major reduction in GLRI funding (from $300 million down to $30 million), but he has since announced support for continuing funding at $300 million a year.

Nutrient Pollution
A mix of state and federal legislative proposals this year seek to address the problem of nonpoint source pollution and its impact on the Great Lakes ecosystem. At the state level, various bills would:

At the federal level, the U.S. House passed a bill to increase funding (to $200 million a year) for state and local programs that reduce nonpoint source pollution. Legislation also has been introduced to create a federal program modeled after the state of Michigan's existing Environmental Assurance Program.

In recent months, too, lawsuits have been threatened or filed by some leading environmental groups over pollution in Lake Erie and its tributaries.

As noted above, nutrient pollution will be the focus of the GLLC's inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. The institute will take place in Detroit on October 25-27. More details will be available in the summer edition of "Great Lakes-St. Lawrence News for Legislators."
Coastal Communities
A new report on the effects of climate change outlines dire consequences for the Great Lakes region and calls for mix of adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Released in March by The Environmental Law & Policy Center, which commissioned scientists from universities across the region, the report notes the changes already underway — for example, more frequent intense rain and snow storms that cause increased flooding and soil erosion, threats to drinking water and wildlife, and shifts in agricultural patterns and crop yields.

The center also released policy recommendations: accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and green infrastructure; increase energy efficiency; align transportation policies and funding with climate change goals; limit agricultural phosphorus runoff; and fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Legislative Trackers
The GLLC monitors federal, state, and provincial legislation on issues related to water quality in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. GLLC members and other legislators are encouraged to send their bills for posting to gllc@csg.org. Here are links to the trackers:

D.C. Capitol
2019 Events
Mark your calendars for these GLLC events. Unless otherwise noted, all events are open to anyone who wishes to attend. Registration is required for all events. There is no charge to attend web meetings, but there is a registration fee for the GLLC's Annual Meeting. Registration for GLLC web meetings opens one month prior to the event.
About the GLLC
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus (GLLC) is a binational, nonpartisan organization that exists solely for the purpose of engaging state and provincial legislators in the policymaking process related to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Secretariat services are provided by The Council of State Governments Midwestern Office. For more information, visit the GLLC website or contact Lisa Janairo, director of the GLLC, at ljanairo@csg.org or 920.458.5910.