The long, painful saga of the transportation bill in Congress has finally come to a close with today’s vote in DC. My colleague Deron Lovaas has a good rundown of what turned into a necessary but bad bill. However, for Great Lakes advocates, some little-noticed action at the margins of the bill provides welcome news on the invasive species front.
With the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s intrepid reporter Dan Egan revealing yet another batch of eDNA tests pointing to likely Asian carp infestation at the edge of Lake Michigan via the Chicago Waterways in the background today, language was inserted into the transportation bill that could speed a solution to the mess. Basically, the Stop Invasive Species Act was tacked on to the larger transportation bill, which will force the Army Corps of Engineers to issue their proposed solution to the finned invasion by 2013 (instead of the current pokey 2015 timeline they are working under). Today's action represents a legally-binding deadline that is a big improvement over the squishy announcement earlier this year when the Feds implied that things were on a fast track, while the Corps insisted otherwise.
This is an unexpected and exciting development. We have been calling for a vote on this legislation for over two years now. While we should be looking at how to revitalize and reconfigure the Chicago River to address the invasive species issue, the Corps’ timeline has been a barrier to real action in blocking not just Asian carp, but the dozens of other species big and small using moving through Chicago to access the Mississippi River and Great Lakes ecosystems.
While we aren’t wild about how it came about, this is great news for the Great Lakes, showing real bipartisan cooperation can still occur in Congress. Actually, this is a second time we have seen bipartisan efforts in the region around this bill. Dare I dream that this is a new trend (bipartisanship; not slipping things into bills)? Probably not, but Senators Durbin, Stabenow, Portman and Representative Camp all get props from me for getting something done on the issue. While not all the Great Lakes votes have been good this year, this action shows that the delegations from Illinois, Michigan, Indiana (despite Senator Coats' shenanigans), Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New York can still work together on behalf of one of the planet’s most important fresh water assets. Now it’s time for the multitude of state and federal agencies to get rolling with the Corps to get a solution in place.