International Joint Commission
The Honorable Dennis Schornack
Remarks before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
Management, the Federal Workforce and the
Chairman Voinovich, for the opportunity to address the complex and vitally
important issue of managing the restoration of the
I have the honor of being accompanied by the Rt. Honourable Herb Gray, my co-chair at the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the former deputy prime minister of Canada. I should also note that your offices have all been provided with copies of our annual report, 11th Biennial report, our special report on Areas of Concern (AOCs) and the alerting letter we sent to Secretary Powell and Minister Graham concerning alien invasive species. My comments today with respect to these documents reflect the sentiments of the entire commission.
Let me also
say a word about the role of the IJC.
Created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, we prevent and resolve
disputes between the
The IJC is
made up of three commissioners appointed by the President of the
The treaty that created the IJC
gave each nation equal rights to use our shared waters, including the
1. domestic and sanitary purposes;
2. navigation, including the service of canals for the purposes of navigation;
3. power and for irrigation purposes.
The IJC’s successful work under the Boundary Waters Treaty
The operating principles of the IJC – our independence, the equality of commissioners and countries, our binational science-based approach and our objectivity – make the IJC the ideal watchdog over how well the countries keep their promises under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The IJC plays a key role in assessing progress and assisting in the implementation of the agreement.
For example, the IJC’s 11th Biennial Report and the recent Special Report on the Status of Restoration Activities in Areas of Concern (AOC) fulfilled our obligation under Section 7 (b) of Annex 2 of the agreement. The AOC report was the first comprehensive look at activities in AOCs since 1994. Our key findings were that a lack of monitoring data, lack of targets and even a lack of something so simple as maps of each AOC made an assessment of progress virtually impossible. Moreover, we found that the countdown to clean – two down, 41 to go – is proceeding too slowly.
The IJC also agreed with previous reports of the GAO and its Canadian counterpart (Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Auditor General) regarding the lack of coordination and the need to set clear lines of authority and accountability in order to properly manage the programs and assess progress towards restoring beneficial water uses in AOCs.
Clearly, when three independent agencies from two separate countries reach one conclusion, the result is a very powerful "triangulation" of opinion that is legitimate and valid. These findings cannot be ignored.
Incredibly, the same three independent organizations also reached the
same conclusions regarding both
Chairman Voinovich, as you know, it was the “death” of
When considering the issue of a coordinated strategy for
While the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act envisioned the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) to be the key agency responsible for managing and coordinating restoration programs, the reality is they don’t have the power, the budget or the reach to really direct programs over multiple federal agencies and multiple levels of government. So I differ with the GAO report when it asserts that GLNPO has failed by not effectively coordinating the work of the other 12 federal agencies that are involved in restoration activities.
I would assert that GLNPO does a good job of coordinating work within
EPA, across the three EPA regions that cover the
Looking at just the thirteen federal agencies, imagine a small, leaky boat with thirteen fishermen, no captain, no map and an empty gas tank. Chances are this boat would get lost, fishing lines would get crossed, no one would want to row, and the boat might even sink while they debate who is in charge of bailing. We need a sturdy ship, a captain, a full tank of gas and a map to guide our journey.
Speaking of a full tank of gas, passage of the Great Lakes Legacy Act was the first major step in government action to clean up toxins that lurk in the muck on the bottom of our lakes. These toxins pose the single greatest threat to human health because they work their way up the food chain, accumulating all the way, ending up in the fish we all love to eat. Authorization is a good start, but full funding is even better.
To make full funding effective, we need to know where to start, where
we are going and when we are done. That
is, when is restoration complete? In
this regard, EPA and Environment Canada should be commended for coordinating
the SOLEC process that establishes some yardsticks by which the health of the
In our 11th Biennial Report, the IJC recommended doing the "top 3" first – fishability, swimmability and drinkability – and to do them right. These three are the top concerns of the public – fish that safe to eat, water that is safe to drink and beaches that are safe to swim on without fear of getting sick. However, despite the importance of getting this done right, SOLEC remains a voluntary process, is without a dedicated source of funding, and lacks a real quantitative basis for reaching conclusions about the health of the lakes.
With all the concerns that have been identified today, what should we do? I believe the answer lies in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. It is the fabric that binds together our two great nations and the single ecosystem we share.
The agreement has a great purpose – creating a three-legged stool
that supports an ecosystem approach to restore and maintain the chemical,
physical and biological integrity of the
While the agreement calls for a government review every six years, it was last updated in 1987 – 16 years ago. Perhaps the time has come to re-examine the agreement, bring it in line with state-of-the-art science, and address contemporary ecological challenges. For example, the specific objectives for chemical integrity are out of date. The agreement is weak with respect biological challenges, especially with regard to invasive species. And there are virtually no provisions with respect to physical integrity, including critical issues like land use, dams, hydrological flows and climate change. About the only thing that has not changed is the Agreement itself.
Questions a review must answer include: Is there a proper balance across the goals of physical, chemical and biological integrity? Are agencies organized and managed to achieve these goals? Are there new technologies and new ways of thinking that could speed the pace of restoration? Who should monitor compliance and how?
For example, Article VI, section 1 (m) and Annex 11 of the agreement commit the U.S. and Canada to a monitoring and coordinated surveillance program to assess compliance, measure progress toward the specific objectives and identify emerging concerns. Prior to the 1987 amendments to the agreement, the IJC and our Great Lakes Water Quality Board were involved in managing and developing this program.
However, as the GAO report notes, in 1987, this responsibility was shifted away from the IJC to the EPA and Environment Canada. It has subsequently languished for lack of commitment and resources.
As a result, the IJC – the independent watchdog – is dependent upon the very government programs that we evaluate for the data upon which to evaluate them. So, I commend you, Chairman Voinovich, and the cosponsors of the Great Lakes Water Quality Indicators and Monitoring Act, for recognizing this unfulfilled promise in the agreement. I caution you, however, to preserve the independence of the IJC and to make sure that implementation of this act will provide us the data and the tools necessary to do our job and do it right.
In this regard, we would also especially commend the Great
Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in
I also believe
that updating the agreement could form the basis for a major, binational
Permit me to be so bold as to suggest that this time the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement could be submitted for Senate ratification to strengthen it and give it treaty status, making sure that promises made in writing become promises kept in action.
We cannot restore
the greatness without the vision, the plan, the power and the budget. The