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A House-Senate conference committee has approved legislation that includes a plan by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-IL) placing a two-year moratorium on new oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes. Fitzgerald joined Stabenow and other lawmakers at a Washington news conference today to call on the House and Senate to give final approval to the plan, which is included in the fiscal year 2002 Energy and Water appropriations bill conference report.
The Stabenow-Fitzgerald measure would bar any new oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes for two years in an effort to preserve safe drinking water supplies for the Great Lakes region. Stabenow and Fitzgerald, joined by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), unveiled the drilling moratorium proposal last summer at a news conference on Chicago's Navy Pier. The Senate gave the plan its initial approval in July.
"The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's fresh water, and millions of Americans rely on the Great Lakes as a primary source of fresh drinking water. About 10 million Americans, many of them in Illinois, depend on Lake Michigan alone for safe drinking water," said Fitzgerald, the lead Senate co-sponsor of the drilling moratorium. The Great Lakes Basin -- encompassing parts of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York -- is home to more than 33 million people, the senator said.
"Protecting and preserving the Great Lakes is critical to our environment and our regional economy. Clearly the U.S. needs to boost domestic production to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but increased production should not come at the expense of fresh drinking water," added Fitzgerald. "I applaud the conference committee for endorsing the drilling moratorium, and I urge both the House and Senate to pass the bill and send it to President Bush."
Fitzgerald explained that the Great Lakes also play a vital role in U.S. commerce and the regional economies of the Great Lakes states in particular. In addition to endangering safe drinking water supplies, drilling in the Great Lakes could also jeopardize regional tourism and recreation, commercial shipping, and agriculture, he said.
"This is a great victory not only for those of us who live near the Great Lakes, but for the entire country," said Stabenow, the lead sponsor of the moratorium. "The Great Lakes supply the drinking water for more than 33 million people. Their beaches and wetlands fuel our tourism industry. Our waters are too important a resource to risk at the hands of those who jeopardize their safety for financial gain. I am proud that our diligent efforts have resulted in such significant protection for the Great Lakes."
Stabenow continued: "My amendment bans any new oil and gas drilling operations in the Great Lakes for at least two years, and directs the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study on the long-term effects of drilling on the Great Lakes."
None of the eight Great Lakes states currently permits drilling from oil rigs on the water, but Canada allows some drilling on its side of Lake Ontario. Michigan is the only state that currently allows drilling along its shoreline, and Michigan officials are reportedly moving forward with plans to begin drilling in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Because the Great Lakes are a shared resource, and drilling in portions of one or more of the Lakes could risk the water quality and safety of the others, Fitzgerald said the drilling moratorium is needed to protect fresh water supplies in the region.
The Stabenow-Fitzgerald amendment would stop any new drilling in the Great Lakes for two years and require the Army Corps of Engineers to study the potential dangers and environmental effects of extracting oil and gas from the Great Lakes. After the study is completed and Congress reviews its findings, lawmakers could extend the moratorium or choose to lift it if the analysis reveals oil and gas could be extracted from the Great Lakes without endangering the fresh water supplies or compromising the Great Lakes' importance to the regional and national economies.
The House could vote on the Energy and Water bill as early as today, and Senate action is expected to follow soon.