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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Mark Biel: As Election Buzz Cools Down, Will Asian Carp Debate Heat Up?


Going into last week’s midterm elections, no one with their finger on the pulse of the American electorate thought the outcome would be pretty for the Democratic Party. Since President Obama’s self-confessed “shellacking”, many continue to ask just what went wrong? And when? Furthermore, what does the future hold for the controversial policies that led up to the most historic election in over 60 years?

While we know where many of our new elected officials stand on major issues like health care, climate and tax reform, many Americans are interested in the steps they will take toward regional problems. One question swimming in my mind (no pun intended) is — where does this leave the Great Lakes region in the struggle over solutions in Asian carp debate? With the sting from Democratic losses still fresh, let’s take a look in the crystal ball and try to gauge how some new arrivals will tackle this issue.

Among the political changes in Great Lakes states heavily invested in this issue, a few major shifts will bring some “grade A” drama to this already complicated debate. First up, Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox will depart office due to term limits and turn the seat over to Bill Schuette. Cox, one of the most outspoken players in this fierce debate, led the charge in the federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago and U.S Army Corps of Engineers currently awaiting a verdict. Schuette already vowed he will continue the lawsuit and seek tougher measures to prevent Asian carp from “overrunning” the Great Lakes. Hopefully, Governor-elect Snyder and Michigan’s congressional delegation will be more practical and recognize that the tired path of litigation benefits no one.

Governor Ted Strickland, an outspoken supporter of immediate lock closure and permanent hydrological separation, lost his re-election bid to former Congressman John Kasich. Strickland was among the most vocal of the Great Lakes governors and it appears Kasich will continue that tradition. The governor-elect stated previously that he believes the shipping canal locks should have already been closed and that whatever must be done to stop carp from getting in the Great Lakes should occur immediately. Kasich represents a key group of soon to be state executives that we hope will take the time to hear varied viewpoints and come to a comprehensive, regional solution. I’m hopeful that Governor Kasich will recognize the dangerous precedent lock closure in Illinois would set for the Ohio River corridor, and for the valuable shipping activity in the Ports of Toledo and Cleveland.

Among the 60+ seats lost by House Democrats, Rep. Debbie Halvorson, a strong waterway transportation proponent, lost her seat to GOP challenger Adam Kinzinger. While this “young gun” has not spoken out much on the Asian carp issue, Kinzinger presents an opportunity to bring new representatives in key states such as Indiana and Ohio, into the debate. By sitting down with these newly elected officials, we can introduce the facts, educate on the science and have a rational discussion about the true impacts of proposals on the table. While Kinzinger has voiced the importance of protecting both the environment and transportation, it will be interesting to see where the new representative from Illinois’ 11th District falls.

Also in Illinois, Senator-Elect Mark Kirk beat out Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to win President Obama’s former Senate seat. Kirk has been outspoken on issues involving Asian carp, introducing the bipartisan Great Lakes Invasive Species Control Act (H.R. 4771). He recognizes that lock closure is not a viable solution to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and that alternatives like fortifying existing barriers are the key to this puzzle.

With new blood comes new dynamics to this ever evolving issue. Whether it’s for better or worse, one thing is certain: the game has changed. And while we hope new players will change the course of this debate, that remains to be seen.

From The Huffington Post

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