How Senator Portman Has Worked to Protect the Great Lakes

August 7, 2019 | Portman Difference

Senator Portman, who serves as co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, has led efforts in the U.S. Senate to protect Lake Erie, which provides drinking water for 11 million people and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. In the past week, Portman traveled nearly 700 miles, along Ohio’s north coast. He saw federally-funded research at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory at Gibraltar Island, hosted a tourism roundtable in Sandusky, visited ports in Cleveland and Ashtabula to highlight economic development, and last Saturday, he held his annual fishing trip and Lake Erie roundtable in Lake County with federal, state, and local water quality experts, and toured the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  Portman has led efforts in the U.S. Senate to authorize and secure full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  Three years ago, he saw four of his bills to protect the Great Lakes signed into law as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.  And he has continued that progress with important initiatives included in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act that was signed into law by President Trump in October of last year. 

Here’s a brief summary of Portman’s record of delivering results that help protect and preserve the Great Lakes:  

  • Securing Full Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Portman has led efforts to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a results-driven program to address the most serious issues that threaten the ecological and economic wellbeing of the Great Lakes basin, including invasive species, pollution, and toxic contamination.  Portman has steadfastly opposed attempts by the Obama administration to cut funding for GLRI and the Trump administration’s attempts to eliminate it altogether.  Each and every time, Portman worked with his colleagues to ensure GLRI was fully funded at its authorized level of $300 million.  It’s the largest investment in the Great Lakes’ health, ecosystem, and water quality, and has already helped combat harmful algal blooms, invasive species, and pollution in the Great Lakes.  The Trump administration recently announced it supports full funding for GLRI. 
  • Reauthorizing Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Portman co-authored legislation with former Illinois Senator Mark Kirk to reauthorize GLRI at $300 million for five years, which was signed into law in 2016 as part of the WIIN Act. Most recently, Portman introduced new reauthorization legislation, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019, which will ramp up funding to $375 million in FY 2022 and then increase funding by $25 million per year until it hits $475 million in FY 2026.
  •  Stopping Asian Carp from Entering the Great Lakes.  Portman has been a leader in the effort to keep Asian carp, and other invasive species, out of Lake Erie. He authored the Stop Invasive Species Act that was signed into law in 2012 to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite completion of the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) to stop Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes through a number of different tributaries. The study found that the Brandon Road Lock and Dam site on the Illinois River is a vulnerable entry point for carp into the Great Lakes. As a result, the Army Corps initiated a study to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Brandon Road.  Portman has been a leader in pushing the Army Corps to complete its Chief’s Report for the Brandon Road Study and protect the $7 billion fishing industry in the Great Lakes.  Last May, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed legislation that required the Corps to complete its Chief’s Report by early 2019, which finally occurred in May 2019.  Portman also authored bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Obama that directs the Corps to enhance emergency procedures and accelerate its efforts to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes basin.
  • Protecting Lake Erie from Harmful Algal Blooms.  Portman has led efforts to protect the lake from the harmful algal blooms that led to a water crisis in Toledo in the summer of 2014, when more than 500,000 Ohioans lost access to clean water. In order to ensure that this never happens again, he authored the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2014 to reauthorize the HABHRA program through FY 2018. For over a decade, this program has served as the federal government's research and response framework for harmful algal blooms, providing monitoring, forecasting, and research on HABs. For the first time, this legislation prioritized combatting algal blooms in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies. Most recently, in January 2019, the president signed Portman’s bipartisan legislation to again reauthorize that program through FY 2023 to continue helping Ohio communities minimize any economic, ecological, and human health impacts of harmful algal blooms, giving millions of Ohioans peace of mind. 
  • Preventing the Army Corps From Dumping Dredged Material Into Lake Erie.  Senator Portman secured language in the WIIN Act and the Senate’s FY 2019 energy and water funding measure that would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from determining that dredged material is safe to dump into Lake Erie from the Cleveland Harbor dredging project unless the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agrees. It ensures that the Army Corps of Engineers complies with state water quality standards when determining how to dispose of the dredged material. Fully dredging the Cuyahoga shipping channel each year is important to ensure cargo ships can safely navigate the Cleveland Harbor, which supports 18,000 jobs. However, the placement of the dredged material must also be done in a manner that protects Lake Erie from harmful contaminants. Portman has worked hard to keep the Army Corps of Engineers from dumping contaminated sediment dredged into Lake Erie. As Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), he investigated reports that the Corps cut its own budget as an excuse to dump contaminated sediment from the Port of Cleveland into Lake Erie and found that, indeed, the Corps did lobby Congress to reduce its own funding by about $3.5 million in FY 2016 so it would be unable to safely dispose of dredged material from the Cleveland Harbor in a confined disposal facility. He has continued to urge the Corps to request adequate funding to fully dredge the shipping channel and dispose of the dredged sediment upland to protect Lake Erie. 
  • Strengthening Fish & Wildlife Restoration Efforts.  Portman co-authored the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), which provides critical resources to conserve and restore fish and wildlife populations in the Great Lakes. The legislation, which was signed into law in 2016 as part of the WIIN Act, reauthorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) program to partner with other federal agencies, states, and tribes to develop and execute proposals for the restoration of fish and wildlife resources in the Great Lakes basin. Legislation signed by the president last fall increases the authorization from $6 million for FY 2016-FY 2021 to $6.6 million in FY 2019, $7.2 million in FY 2020, and $7.8 million for FY 2021.  This year, Portman also reintroduced the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization (GLFRA) Act to formally authorize the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center, which supports and protects the $7 billion Great Lakes sport and commercial fishery industry. 
  • Supporting and Protecting Great Lakes Conservation Efforts.  Portman led a successful effort to keep Region 5 of the U.S. EPA—which serves Ohio, as well as Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota—up and running.  Portman also included an authorization for the Corps to conduct a Great Lakes coastal resiliency study in the America's Water Infrastructure Act, which was signed into law in October 2018.  The study, a first of its kind for the Great Lakes, will coordinate a strategy across the Great Lakes states to help protect the Great Lakes’ 5,200-mile coastline. The coastline is imperative to a robust economy and tourism industry because the Great Lakes support a $17.3 billion maritime economy and a $14 billion recreation and tourism industry. 
  • Ensuring Clean Drinking Water.  Portman introduced legislation to create a federal strategy to identify and respond to the health impacts of emerging contaminants, such as cyanotoxins and PFAS, which are increasingly found in drinking water sources throughout Ohio.  Called the Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act, this legislation will help the federal government more efficiency and effectively analyze the impacts of emerging contaminants through greater coordination among federal agencies, and will provide states with the resources they need to monitor, test, and respond to potential risks posed by emerging contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act is included in the Senate-passed FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
  • Reducing Lead in Our Water Supply & Drinking Water.  Working with Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Gary Peters (D-MI), Portman helped develop a bipartisan compromise designed to end crises like the one in Flint, Michigan, which will provide $170 million for states, including Ohio, to address lead in our water supply, improve all forms of water infrastructure, and fund health programs to treat lead exposure.  This measure was signed into law in 2016 as part of the WIIN Act.
  • Providing Communities with Flexibility for Water Infrastructure Projects.  In December 2018, the president signed into law Portman’s legislation with Senator Brown, the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act. This legislation will provide local communities with flexibility to prioritize investments in wastewater and stormwater projects that are necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act. The bill also promotes the use of green infrastructure and requires EPA to update its guidance and expand the criteria for determining the ability for households to pay utility bills.
  • Ensuring that Ohioans Have Safe Drinking Water.  Building on the effort to combat harmful algal blooms, Senator Portman co-authored the Drinking Water Protection Act, which would require the EPA to establish health advisory levels for microcystins in drinking water and develop a strategic plan for assessing and managing risks associated with algal toxins in drinking water. This legislation was signed into law by President Obama in August 2015.
  • Establishing Framework for Ballast Water Discharge Regulations.  Owing to its position as a critical shipping route, Portman has worked to protect Lake Erie from ballast water and incidental discharges originating from commercial vessels.  Last December, the president signed into law Portman’s Great Lakes provisions related to the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) as part of the Frank Lobiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act.  VIDA establishes a framework for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to establish national ballast water and incidental discharge rules. Portman authored provisions to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected against the spread of invasive species through ballast water discharges while creating regulatory certainty for the competitive shipping industry across the Great Lakes region.
  • Protecting Migratory Bird PopulationsEarlier this year, the president signed into law Portman’s Migratory Birds of the Americas Act, providing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) the resources it needs to protect the migratory bird populations that make Lake Erie one of the nation’s premier birdwatching destinations.  The bill will help sustain populations of migratory birds that face threats to their health and habitats.
  • Ending the Threat of Microbeads in Lake Erie.  Portman has led efforts to combat one of the lake’s biggest polluters, plastic microbeads, which are plastic particles used in products like soap and toothpaste. They are often mistaken for food by small fish and other wildlife and can get concentrated in the food chain and harm humans. Unfortunately, microbeads have accumulated to dangerous levels in the Great Lakes. To put an end to this threat to the lake, Portman authored the Microbeads Free Waters Act, which was signed into law in December 2015 and will phase out the production of microbeads in a commonsense way that protects our natural resources and wildlife while keeping Ohio competitive.  

For these and other efforts, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies granted Portman their 2016 Clean Water Award.  Portman was also honored last week as the recipient of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force Legislator of the Year Award for 2019. The Great Lakes are an invaluable economic and environmental resource to Ohio. Senator Portman has worked tirelessly to protect and preserve the health of Lake Erie, and he has a record of delivering results.  He will continue to make it a top priority.