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Warehouse E

Losing State Control

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Can Great Lakes States Trust Their Government To Preserve The Lakes?

By James Donahue

As fresh potable water grows scarce throughout the world, residents of the eight states surrounding the Great Lakes have gone to great lengths to preserve and protect this great natural resource.

The lakes have proven their recreational and industrial value, have maintained a major fishing industry and have been a source of water for all of the great cities surrounding them, from Chicago east to Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo.

Over the years . . . even before the great aquifers deep under the earth began going dry . . . farmers and big cities located in places far away from the lakes have entertained thoughts of tapping into the lakes for commercial and industrial reasons.

Among the worst of the threats came from western coal companies that proposed a multi-billion dollar scheme in the 1970s to build a coal slurry pipeline from Lake Superior west to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. The Peabody Coal Company, with major strip mining operations on the Hopi and Navajo Reservations in Arizona, pumped the great aquifer under that territory to run slurry pipelines to various power plants serving electricity as far west as Los Angeles. They pumped so much water the people even in 1998 were complaining of wells going dry.

In the 1980s, under a mandate from Congress, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the feasibility of diverting Great Lakes water to agricultural regions in the Midwest. This occurred after water supplies from the once-vast Ogallala Aquifer began showing signs of going dry.

The eight U.S. state governments plus the Canadians have been working together for many years with the common interest of preventing any company or government body from tapping into the Great Lakes, the largest source of fresh water in the world, for any reason.

Now comes something called the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, an international agreement that is supposed to ban the export of Great Lakes water via pipeline, truck or railway cars. They say this compact is just one house of Congress away from final federal approval. Many leaders laud the document as a long-needed legal shield designed to protect the Great Lakes from private, business or industrial invasion.

But can Americans trust their government enough to believe such a document won’t be a disguised trick? Remember how titles of various Congressional bills have resulted in the very opposite of what the name suggests. Examples would include the Patriot Act, the Employee Free Choice Act, the Timber Salvage Bill and the Safe Drinking Water Act. If you look up the history of these acts of legislature, and just what the bills were designed to do, you will find that the outcome was just the opposite of what the name implied.

Indeed, some Michigan legislators and lawyers are looking at this agreement with a somewhat jaundiced eye.

Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan is demanding more assurance that the treaty won’t, in fact, open the door for federal jurisdiction on Great Lakes waters, and subsequently allow a reversal of rules at some future date that will be out of local government’s hands.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of State and the international Joint Commission, Stupak notes: “Ratifying the compact could allow Great Lakes water to no longer be held within the public trust and instead be defined as a product for commercial use. I want to thoroughly understand the lasting impact this compact could have on Great Lakes water for years to come.” He said he wants to make sure “we are not opening the door for the commercialization” of Great Lakes water.

Traverse City lawyer James Olson, part of a legal team that defeated a bid by Nestle Co. to extract and sell bottled water, said “It’s the 11th hour for the Great Lakes Compact, but let’s be sure it’s not the 11th hour for the Great Lakes. Before the U.S. House acts on the compact, Congress needs to take steps to assure the document doesn’t expose this magnificent ecosystem to commercial exploitation.”

Indeed, they can call on Congress for all kinds of protection of our lakes and our environment, but can we really trust people who are living high in the pockets of big business interests? Why has Congress been unable to impeach a president, vice-president and staff that has clearly acted in the interests of big business and only big business since it moved into Washington nearly eight years ago?

What makes anyone think this compact agreement will, in any way, protect the Great Lakes from future exploitation? The only way to really keep the lakes safe is for local citizens to set up militia forces and protect the lakes with guns drawn.