Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy The Great Lakes ecosystem is recognized by many as an international natural
resource that has been altered by human activities and climate
variability. These alterations have led to degraded water quality,
diminished habitat, lower native fish and wildlife populations, and an altered ecosystem.
In response, the federal governments of the United States and Canada and the
state and provincial governments in the Great Lakes basin are implementing
several restoration activities. These activities range from mitigating the
harmful effects of toxic substances in lake waters to restoring fish
Most laws and efforts in the past addressed specific issues in the Great Lakes;
a few addressed issues at the ecosystem level. This caused the Government
Accountability Office and others to express the need for initiating and
implementing a comprehensive approach for restoring the Great Lakes
ecosystem. In 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was proposed
and implemented by the Obama Administration. The aim of GLRI is to restore
the Great Lakes ecosystem under one initiative. Specifically, the GLRI is
to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of
the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem by directing activities to address five focus
areas: (1) toxic substances and Areas of Concern (these are areas in the Great Lakes
that are environmentally degraded); (2) invasive species; (3) nearshore health
and nonpoint source pollution; (4) habitat and wildlife protection and
restoration; and (5) accountability, monitoring, evaluation,
communication, and partnerships.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead federal agency for
implementing and administering GLRI. The EPA has received authority to
distribute appropriated funds to several federal agencies, which then
undertake restoration activities and projects. The EPA also administers
grant programs to fund nonfederal projects and activities related to
restoration. An interagency Great Lakes Task Force oversees the
implementation of GLRI and created a strategy to guide restoration. The
strategy (referred to as the Action Plan) provides a framework for restoring
the Great Lakes ecosystem under GLRI from 2010 through 2014. For each focus
area under the GLRI, the Action Plan provides a problem statement, a set
of goals, interim objectives, progress measures, final targets, and principal
activities for restoring the ecosystem. Restoration activities are being done
under existing federal authorities. The GLRI has received approximately $1.37
billion in appropriated funds since FY2010.
The scope and scale of this restoration initiative have led some to question
its direction and duration. The GLRI does not specify what a restored
ecosystem might look like, nor does it estimate how long restoration
activities will need to be conducted, and how much restoration might cost.
Some other questions surrounding this initiative include how the GLRI is
governed and how federal and state restoration efforts are coordinated.
Furthermore, GLRI remains an administrative initiative; there is no law
that specifically authorizes GLRI, though Congress has appropriated funds
to implement the program. Congress might consider these questions in oversight
hearings or in legislation during the 113th Congress. Companion bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress to address GLRI.
S. 1232 and H.R. 2773 would establish an administrative and management
structure for restoration activities in the Great Lakes, authorize GLRI
and appropriations for its implementation, specify the scope and function of
GLRI, and authorize the coordinating role of the Great Lakes Interagency
Date of Report: September 30, 2013
Number of Pages: 22 Order Number: R43249
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