2007-07-14 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Congress and Legislature Are Stirring Great Lakes Waters
By George Weeks

There were welcome strides made in Lansing and Washington last week on Great Lakes legislation. Whether they cross the finish line is a great question in both capitals.

State House Democrats fanned across the state for 10 press conferences to hype a "Great Waters, Great Michigan" package of bills they dubbed as "a bold plan that will protect… Michigan's most precious natural resource from being diverted and sold to other states and nations."

Apart from those to require conservation measures for biggest water users, the most important bill would ratify the 2005 Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact, which would ban diversions outside the basin. Being within the basin, Michigan should be a leader. But, alas, only Minnesota had ratified as of this writing.

The northern pointman for the Democratic blitz was Representative Gary McDowell of Rudyard, only one of two state legislators who represent portions of both peninsulas. (The other is Senator Jason Allen (R-Traverse City), author of a Senate-passed bill to help fund water quality improvements for inland lakes.)

McDowell authored one of the most controversial - and needed, in my view - bills. It would remove the bottled water exception from the state's definition of "diversion" unless the facility has a permit. He said it is paramount to "hold accountable companies that want to sell one of our most precious natural resource for profit. Our water is not for sale."

It is, of course, sold and shipped out of the basin in beer and other products that use substantial water. But it makes sense to toughen standards, and avoid a legal precedent of sanctioning water itself as a sole product rather than a diversion.

Governor Jennifer Granholm told me last year she recognized that the latest law on groundwater withdrawals needs fixing. It remains to be seen if she'll really fight to give the law "teeth," as called for Friday by Traverse City attorney Jim Olson, representing Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in its court battles (including a lawsuit pending before the Michigan Supreme Court).

But Granholm, in a public TV interview at Central Michigan University last week, welcomed the House Democratic package. Its prospects are good in that Democratic-ruled chamber, but not the GOP-controlled Senate.

On Capitol Hill, where Democrats lead both chambers, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow touted Senate Appropriations Committee approval of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill that has more than $53 million for navigation projects in Michigan, including dredging, which got short shrift this season.

The bill includes many proj- ects for northern Michigan, including some big ones: Grand Marais, $1,500,000; Manistee, $1,196,000; and Petoskey, $3,198,000. However, our senators caution that allocation "is left to the discretion" of the Army Corps of Engineers.

There's also $21,999,000 for the Soo Locks. But, as U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (DMenominee) observed earlier this year, the Corps has "back peddled, hemmed, hawed" on the issue of building a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie that was first authorized way back in 1986.

The Senate bill includes a provision sought by Levin and Stabenow to direct operation and make permanent the Asian carp barrier at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and to construct a second barrier. So far, the feds haven't been moving as fast as the carp.

There are all kinds of proposals by politicians to deal with invasive species, pollution, diversion, and other threats to the Great Lakes. And all kinds of hemming and hawing.

Lottery Czar to Congress? Gary Peters, who resigns August 10 as Michigan's highly successful lottery commissioner, was a Democratic state senator, an early contender for the 2002 gubernatorial nomination won by now-Governor Jennifer Granholm, and lost by a mere 5,200 votes in 2002 to now- Attorney General Mike Cox.

But his Democratic credentials did not deter Central Michigan University from selecting him as its incoming and third Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government, named after former Republican Senator Robert Griffin and his wife, Marjorie, of Traverse City. The first two chairs were Republicans.

Peters on August 20 begins what is scheduled to be three $65,000 yearly stints in the position, which involves conducting a weekly seminar for students and conducting assorted forums. But he's eyeing a congressional race and may not serve out the full stint.

He told me last week he's "looking very seriously" at, and will soon decide on, challenging Representative Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Hills), one of the prime targets of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with whom Peters recently met.

It appears Peters is being heavily recruited by unions and Hill Dems, and will run.

George Weeks retired last

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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