The Darker Side of Summer: Failure to Act on Asian Carp in the Great Lakes is Unacceptable Behavior

Posted In: Politics, State, News, State,   From Issue 704   By: Robert E Martin

27th May, 2010     0

If there is any need for further proof that the United States Supreme Court is out of touch with the realities plaguing this nation, one need look no further than the crisis facing the State of Michigan with the onslaught of Asian Carp.

For a third time in recent weeks the Court decided not to get involved in a dispute over how to prevent invasive Asian carp from making their way into the Great Lakes. The justices turned down a new request from Michigan to consider ordering closure of Chicago area shipping locks to prevent the fish from threatening the Great Lakes, as the locks provide the most logical pathway to Lake Michigan for the unwanted fish.

The court had previously declined twice to order the locks closed on an emergency basis while it considered whether to hear the case. This time, the court rejected a proposal by Michigan and six other states to use a long-standing case involving water diversion from Lake Michigan as a vehicle for seeking to permanently sever a man-made linkage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin.

Michigan has led the legal fight to close the locks, arguing that the ravenous carp, weighing up to 100 pounds, could decimate the lakes' $7.5 billion fishing industry by starving out competitors such as salmon and walleye.  The fish have also been responsible for causing fatalities to skiers and people using motorboats.

Mike Cox, the state's attorney general and a Republican candidate for governor, said responsibility for blocking the carp's advance now lies with President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders. The Obama administration sided with Illinois in opposing closure of the locks.

"While President Obama has turned a blind eye to the millions of Great Lakes residents who do not happen to live in his home state of Illinois, it is now up to him to save thousands of Michigan jobs and our environment," Cox said.

The office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released this statement about the Supreme Court decision: "We are pleased that the Court has agreed with our position. The State of Illinois will continue its extensive work in collaboration with the federal government and all the Great Lakes states to protect the ecology and health of the Great Lakes by combating the progression of Asian Carp."

The justices gave no explanation for their decision. The two-sentence order denied both Michigan's request to reopen the diversion case or, as a fallback, let the state file a lawsuit raising the same issues.

Although the high court refused to accept a new lawsuit, Michigan could file one in federal district court, said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. But doing so would take months, and "meanwhile, the carp are knocking at the door," he said.

Bighead and silver carp were among Asian varieties brought to the southern United States in the early 1970s. Government officials and private aquaculturists thought the newcomers could gobble up unwanted algae at sewage treatment plants and fish farms; but the carp escaped into the Mississippi and have been migrating northward ever since. They have infested sections of the Illinois River and have reached an electronic barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, about 25 miles from Lake Michigan.

A team of biologists says it has detected DNA from the carp past the barrier - and even within Lake Michigan itself. But no actual carp have been found between the barrier and the lake, despite an intensive search.

The sanitary and ship canal was built a century ago as engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to send water from Lake Michigan southward toward the Mississippi. It created an artificial linkup between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds that has provided a pathway for invasive species.

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mi, and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI authored a bill known as the CARP ACT in early May and held a bipartisan, bicameral press event urging immediate ecological separation to protect the Great Lakes from the fast approaching species.

In one small ray of light, the Obama Administration did announce they would close one of the Chicago locks for five days and conduct a massive fish kill.  While they feel this is a step in the right direction, at the conference the Members reinforced the need to close the locks immediately and gain complete ecological separation.

“We cannot allow the destruction of the Great Lakes’ ecological, environmental and economic value by Asian Carp,” Camp said. “It is time to stop flirting with disaster. We must pass the CARP ACT and we will be making an all-out push in both houses to pass this bill.”

“Asian carp pose a serious threat to our economy, our waterways, and our way of life in Michigan,” said Stabenow. “Our bipartisan CARP ACT will ensure important short-term emergency action is taken, action being implemented under the Asian Carp Control Framework. It is critical Congress pass our bill as we continue to work on a permanent solution to protect our Great Lakes,” Stabenow said.

The entry of this up to four-foot-long, 100-pound fish that jumps out of the water at the sound of boat motors, threatens to disrupt the Lakes’ $7.5 billion fishing industry and the 800,000 jobs it supports, as well as its vitally important ecosystem.

The House co-sponsors of H.R. 4472 are Reps. Candice Miller (R-MI), Mike Rogers (R-MI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Thad McCotter (R-MI), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Latta (R-OH), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), John Kline (R-MN), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), John Conyers (D-MI).

The Senate co-sponsors of S. 2946 are Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chuck Schumer (D-NY).


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