2006-09-09 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Stabenow Touts Canadian Trash Deal; Bouchard Prefers Legislation
By George Weeks

While campaigning in Michigan last week with Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard' the GOP challenger of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow' Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina echoed his "Do Nothing Debbie" criticism of Stabenow.

"Folks' she's only passed one bill and that was to rename a federal building'" Dole told a gathering of Grand Traverse County Republicans. She chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and openly encouraged Bouchard to run' to the distress of his early primary opponents.

The next day Stabenow did something rather extraordinary: She signed a surprise agreement' via exchanged letters' with Ontario Environmental Minister Laurel Broten to phase out over the next four years the 350 trucks that daily come into Michigan with trash from six municipalities.

In a Thursday conference call press session with Michigan reporters' Stabenow' who was campaigning in Detroit' and Senator Carl Levin' celebrating his 45th wedding anniversary at a Lake Michigan family vacation home north of Muskegon' said Ontario would reduce its trash shipments by 20 percent by December 31' 2007.

In return' Stabenow and Levin agreed to not push their amendments to impose $150'000-a-day inspection fees on all the trucks and to ban them if anti-terror screening techniques are not certified as effective.

Stabenow' who negotiated the deal after getting a call from Broten' said: "This is real. It's concrete. It cannot be challenged in court. And it is not subject to the uncertainties of the legislative process."

In trashing Stabenow's trash deal' Bouchard said she "may have made a promise that could kill meaningful legislation" that he said was expected to pass the House this week. He said' "We need a lasting solution to end the problem. An election year promise from a Canadian bureaucrat does not give Michigan definitive authority to stop trash."

Bouchard has a valid point if indeed Congress is ready to act. But Levin says odds of congressional action are remote' and insists that last week's deal brings Michigan "a hell of a lot closer" to remedy.

Shortly after the Stabenow- Levin announcement' U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee) said it "appears to be very good news for northern Michigan and the entire state of Michigan. ...For too long' Michigan has been a dumping ground for Canadian waste' which has raised environmental concerns and serious homeland security issues."

But Stupak wisely intends to continue to push for "legislative solutions" on this and other U.S.-Canadian issues' including border security and presence of unfiltered sewage and bacteria in the St. Marys River' which he says comes from a wastewater plant in Ontario. Last week' he cited a report from a Michigan State University expert to support his contention.

What strikes me as extraordinary about the trash deal is not so much that it may be a solution (Stupak correctly cautions that it "appears" to be good news) but that a U.S. senator from Michigan negotiated an international deal with a cabinet minister from Ontario.

That's not exactly in accord with the protocol of international diplomacy. But Levin calls it "the beginning of the end of the filling up of our landfills and clogging our bridges and highways with trucks from Canada."

We'll be hearing a good deal in the Stabenow-Bouchard race about border issues. Bouchard' a

member of the FBI's task force on terrorism' is making border security issues a major emphasis of his campaign and emphasized that in his joint appearance with Dole in Traverse City.

(In 1999' during her brief bid for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination' Dole - who served in the cabinets of two presidents and was president of the American Red Cross - campaigned in Traverse City on her own behalf. Her husband' ex- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas' was the 1996 GOP presidential nominee' losing Michigan to President Bill Clinton by about 500'000 votes.)

(Clinton of Arkansas is one of 17 governors who became president' the latest being George W. Bush of Texas. As noted by Elizabeth Dole' one of two senators in her family to run for president' in our chat last week in Traverse City' the Senate "is a tougher place from which to run.")

Camp and Conservancy

On occasion' government and private folks cooperate in a way that serves the public. Such was the case when the Leelanau Conservancy' U.S. Representative Dave Camp (RMidland) and others worked out a deal with the Homestead Resort that resolved a simmering land use dispute and acquired about 100 acres along the Crystal River for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

At a Glen Arbor celebration of the acquisition' Ernie Quintana' Midwest Regional director for the National Park Service' said' "This does not happen by government working on its own. It works when good people come together."

And when a local congressman gets about $5 million inserted into the budget.

George Weeks retired this year after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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