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Asian carp issue continues to spawn Great Lakes debate

The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes

Navigational locks and gates in Chicago-area waterways crucial for commercial shipping may be opened less frequently than usual in a stepped-up campaign to prevent Asian carp from overrunning the Great Lakes. This development followed a discussion between the White House and several governors earlier in the week.

The plan falls short of closing the navigational structures entirely, as demanded by Michigan and five other Great Lakes states who fear the locks will provide an opening to the lakes for the giant carp, which some scientists say could devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry.

The Obama administration describes the plan to open locks less frequently as part of an effective strategy for keeping the invaders at bay while long-term biological controls are developed. The government said it would spend $78.5 million on actions to slow the advance of the carp.

After meeting with the concerned governors of Great Lakes states, Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the opportunity to work together to prevent environmental and economic damage before it happens exists.

One governor however, was not happy the Chicago locks will not be totally closed. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle said he was “disappointed” after the Monday meeting. Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty did not attend the White House meeting.

Minnesota’s Eighth District Representative Jim Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, Braved the Washington DC blizzard and held a subcommittee meeting Tuesday on water resources and environment. The subcommittee took testimony on the Asian carp problem in the Great Lakes.

To ensure wise use of the 78.5 million in federal funding, Oberstar’s subcommittee recommended a number of government agencies team up for the task including the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and state scientists from around the Great Lakes region. The subcommittee also advocated for the inclusion of the Canadian government in the process.

Oberstar said, "This has to be a federal response, we cannot allow eight Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario to pass separate, disparate, laws that may conflict with each other and work against each other.”

Oberstar's remarks come at a time when a number of state governments have been over-ruled by the Supreme Court in their pursuit of state legislation to curb the carp problem. However, a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit filed by Michigan and five other states may ultimately force Illinois to close the canal in question before federal response takes effect.

The carp debate is far from over; state officials, including several attorney generals from Great Lakes states will meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice later this week. Also, on Friday, Feb. 12, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee will hold a public meeting to discuss and get recommendations on Asian carp control efforts.  The committee will answer questions and listen to comments from the public during the meeting, which is available via live web stream.  Questions for the committee can be submitted on the website.  The meeting takes place from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.