Committee examines lack of coordination in cleanup efforts

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - With dozens of programs designed to clean up things such as contaminated sediments and invasive species in the Great Lakes, lawmakers and advocates are trying to find a way to coordinate these efforts and designate a leader.

A recent report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that 33 federal and 17 state programs have spent more than $1.7 billion on environmental restoration programs for the Great Lakes.

"Is there an orchestra leader who knows what all of you are doing and is coordinating it? Is there?" asked Sen. George Voinovich, who is chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia.

Voinovich's question at a congressional hearing Wednesday was followed by silence.

The GAO report criticized the lack of coordination between state and federal agencies. It argued that the clean water legislation passed in 1987 put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes National Program Office in charge.

Thomas Skinner, EPA Region V administrator and the manager of that office, said the fact that representatives at the hearing from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't point to him when Voinovich asked his question shows the need for a bill to state who is in charge.

"That mantle of responsibility is fine, but there needs to be some clarification so that we're all on the same page," Skinner said.

Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones, who was speaking on behalf of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, of which Ohio Gov. Bob Taft is chairman, said the states should take the lead.

"This council disagrees with (the GAO) recommendation," he said. "We believe that it should be the governors of Great Lakes states that set the priorities for a plan."

State Sen. Susan Garrett of Illinois said each part of the Great Lakes has its own problems. In her district along Lake Michigan, the high e-coli contamination is a big concern.

"While we must work together throughout the Great Lakes region, we must not ignore the fact that a lot of problems need local involvement and localized solutions," she said.

Dennis L. Schornack, chairman of the U.S. section of the International Joint Commission, told lawmakers that Canada also needs to be involved in the discussion of a comprehensive plan to clean up the Lakes.

Schornack said the Water Quality Agreement between the two countries, which hasn't been updated since 1987, should be retooled and ratified as a treaty so that it has the force of law.

"Updating the agreement could form the basis for a major, binational Great Lakes initiative," he said.

Voinovich, Sen. Mike DeWine, both R-Ohio, and other Great Lakes lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this week that would authorize $6 billion over the next decade to clean up the basin. The bill also would create a national office to oversee and coordinate cleanup efforts.

"There needs to be a national policy for the Great Lakes. There needs to be a national vision, and there needs to be a national commitment to the Great Lakes," DeWine said at the hearing. "We have, frankly, waited long enough to turn the talk into action."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)