[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]
GLIN==> GLU Waters Watch #4: Congress drops ball on water export
- Subject: GLIN==> GLU Waters Watch #4: Congress drops ball on water export
- From: Reg Gilbert <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 08 Nov 2000 09:51:31 -0800
- Delivered-To: email@example.com
- Delivered-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- List-Name: GLIN-Announce
GREAT LAKES SUSTAINABLE WATERS WATCH # 4
Great Lakes United, Week of November 10, 2000
U.S. CONGRESS DROPS THE BALL ON PROTECTING GREAT LAKES FROM EXPORT
A bill signed into law by President Clinton last week makes explicit that
water export is covered by the existing authority of Great Lakes
governors to veto diversion of water from the U.S. side of the Great
But the bill fails to guide the governors in the more important work of
reforming basin water use law, which will be critical for defending the
governors' veto authority in any future trade challenge.
The bill, the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, amends a 1986 law
that gives the eight governors the right to veto proposed
"diversions" of water from the basin. Traditionally these have
been removals of water via pipeline or canal, but "diversion"
means "the act of diverting from a course, activity, or use"
and would certainly have applied to any export even without the change.
The eight Great Lakes states are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana,
Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The original WRDA veto power is unconditional: a single governor may veto
any diversion proposal of any size or type made by any of the other
states. The governor of Michigan exercised this power once, in 1992, to
veto a proposed diversion at Lowell, Indiana. A diversion of up to 5
million gallons a day was approved by all the governors at Akron, Ohio,
in 1998, on condition that an equal amount of water, of equal quality, be
returned via another route.
Since export of water could be interpreted as trade in a good, it is
possible that use of the diversion veto over a proposed export could
conflict with U.S. obligations under the North American Free Trade
Agreement or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is
administered by the World Trade Organization.
The export provisions of the new WRDA do nothing to reduce this threat.
They were inserted into the bill without hearings during the fall, at the
behest of Sen. Spencer Abraham, who is in a close election contest with
Rep. Deborah Stabenow for his Michigan Senate seat.
The new WRDA abstains from steps that really could reduce the threat of
trade agreement interference in regional power to restrict harmful
removals of Great Lakes water. The bill weakly "encourages" the
states to work with Ontario and Quebec to "develop and implement a
mechanism that provides a common conservation standard embodying the
principles of water conservation and resource improvement for making
decisions concerning the withdrawal and use of water from the Great Lakes
Basin." Much stronger language was needed.
The "encouragement" provision is a reference to current state
and provincial negotiations to collectively reorganize the approval
system for water uses inside the basin. If such an agreement between the
states and provinces were based on environmental protection rather than
regional protectionism, it would provide a firmer legal basis for
controlling water export and diversions outside the basin.
But the bill's "encouragement" language goes no further than
the broadest generalities of what the governors have already said they
intend to do. As a result, it misses a rare opportunity for Congress to
outline the specific changes in basin water use law that would legally
support future export and diversion vetoes, if such vetoes are ever
challenged by out-of-basin companies or countries.
Language similar to the "encouragement" provisions passed by
Congress last week had been the source of discussion among basin
environmentalists and members of the House of Representatives during the
summer. Basin environmentalists considered the language at best a lost
opportunity, and at worst dangerous. For example, encouraging the states
and provinces to "implement a mechanism" could be taken to mean
that Congress was granting pre-approval for any agreement, even an
ineffective one. Congressional approval is required if the states want to
make their agreement both binding among themselves and immune from
challenge by other states.
Equally bad was the proposed "resource improvement" language,
which could be used to justify development of water resources rather than
their protection and restoration.
Basin environmentalists preferred no Congressional action on the issue
rather than the weak language under consideration. The House proposal was
eventually dropped, only to suddenly reappear in the Senate during the
closing weeks of Congress's frantic pre-election activity.
The "implement" and "resource improvement" components
of the bill were the subject of a Senate floor discussion just before the
Water Resources Development Act of 2000 was passed in its final form. In
a colloquy that will appear in a report accompanying the legislation and
be pertinent in the case of future legal controversy, Michigan Sens. Carl
Levin and Spencer Abraham, and the Senate managers of the bill, Bob Smith
of New Hampshire and Max Baucus of Montana, reaffirmed that Congress must
approve any binding arrangement concluded by the states, and that
"resource improvement" means protection rather than development
of basin waters.
For more information, contact Reg Gilbert at email@example.com .
GREAT LAKES UNITED'S MONTREAL OFFICE HAS MOVED
Stephane Gingras and the GLU Montréal office are now located at: 4525 Rue
DeRouen, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H1V 1H1. The phone number and email
address remain the same at (514) 396 3333 and firstname.lastname@example.org, but the
office has a new fax number: -0297.
Great Lakes Sustainable Waters Watch is produced by Great Lakes United's
Sustainable Waters Task Force with support from the Charles Stewart Mott
Foundation, the Hahn Family Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. The
task force is committed to protecting and restoring the natural quantity
and flow of water in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River ecosystem. To
subscribe or send stories, contact Reg Gilbert at email@example.com or (716)
886-0142, fax: -0303. Visit us on the Web or join Great Lakes United at
(716) 886-0142, fax: -0303
Great Lakes United
Buffalo State College, Cassety Hall
1300 Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo, NY, 14222