How Senator Portman Has Worked to Protect the Great Lakes

March 13, 2017 | Press Releases

Over the last six years, great progress has been made in protecting Lake Erie, which provides drinking water for three million Ohioans and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.  And Senator Portman, who serves as co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, has led those efforts in the U.S. Senate.  Just last year, Portman, who holds a roundtable discussion with federal, state, and local water quality experts on the shores of Lake Erie every summer, saw four of his bills to protect the Great Lakes signed into law.  Here’s a brief summary of Portman’s record of delivering results that help protect and preserve the Great Lakes:

  • Reauthorizing Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Portman co-authored legislation with Illinois Senator Mark Kirk to reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which was signed into law last year as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. GLRI is 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.
  • Securing Full Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Portman led efforts to fully fund the initiative at its authorized level of $300 million in FY16, despite attempts by the Obama administration to cut funding for the initiative. In its last budget request, the Obama administration requested a $50 million cut, which Portman opposed.  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. Nearly $1 million of federal GLRI funds were granted last August to five Ohio cities: Ashtabula, Cleveland, Huron, Sandusky, and Vermilion. The funds are being used on green infrastructure projects to improve water quality.  And just Friday, Portman led a bipartisan letter to the EPA administrator expressing concern about reports the Trump Administration’s 2018 budget request may include a 97 percent cut to Great Lakes funding.  He has previously said he would oppose any such cut and work to fully fund the initiative.
  • Preventing the Army Corps From Dumping Dredged Material Into Lake Erie.  Senator Portman co-authored legislation included in the WIIN Act 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 EPA agrees. It ensures that the Army Corps of Engineers complies with state water quality standards when determining the Federal Standard for disposing of dredged material. Portman has worked hard to keep the Army Corps of Engineers from dumping contaminated sediment dredged  into Lake Erie. And as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), he is investigating reports that the Corps cut its own budget as an excuse to dump contaminated sediment from the Port of Cleveland into Lake Erie.  As he wrote in a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed in February, he will continue to make this a focus of his in the Senate.
  • 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 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. This measure, signed into law last year as part of the WIIN Act, serves an important role in implementing the GLRI and will renew continued cooperative efforts to address impacts associated with invasive species throughout the Great Lakes basin.
  • 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 last year as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.
  • Protecting Lake Erie from Harmful Algal Blooms.  Portman had 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 and prioritizes combatting algal blooms in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies. It will help Ohio communities minimize any economic, ecological, and human health impacts of harmful algal blooms, giving millions of Ohioans peace of mind.
  • 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 Environmental Protection Agency (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.
  • Stopping Asian Carp from Entering the Great Lakes. Portman has worked to ensure that other invasive species, such as Asian carp, do not disrupt the lake’s ecosystem by including language in the 2015 omnibus bill to provide the Army Corps of Engineers with emergency authority to combat Asian carp should they enter the Great Lakes. 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. Portman is also the coauthor of the bipartisan Defending Our Great Lakes Act, which would develop a plan of action to stop carp from entering the Great Lakes. Most recently, on January 10, Portman joined Senator Stabenow and members of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force in asking the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its study of the Brandon Road Lock & Dam –  identified as the most vulnerable entry point for Asian carp – by the January 2019 deadline. The study will help identify the best way to prevent Carp from entering the Great Lakes.
  • Ending the Threat of Microbeads in Lake Erie.  Portman has led efforts to combat one of the Lake’s biggest polluters is 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.  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 result of delivering results.  He will continue to make it a top priority.