Romney 'Outraged' by Army Corps' Speed on Asian Carp Plan
President Obama signed legislation that would compel the Army Corps to speed up the study, though the Army Corps said it likely would not make their deadline.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Thursday he is "outraged" that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not moved faster on a plan to permanently block Asian carp from swimming up the Chicago canal system and into Lake Michigan.
"The Great Lakes have literally shaped my home state, and are an important part of my heritage. I am deeply concerned about the threat posed to the lakes by invasive species from the Mississippi River basin and I am outraged that, five years after Congress ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to identify a solution, we are still years away from a recommendation," Romney, a Michigan native, said in an email his campaign sent to the Journal Sentinel.
"America put a man on the moon in less time than that," he added. "As president, I will accelerate the Army Corps process and ensure that they develop a plan as soon as possible to protect both the ecology and economy of the region."
The Army Corps is in the middle of a multi-year study evaluating what it will take to repair the natural hydrologic separation between the Asian carp-infested Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan that Chicago destroyed over a century ago when it blasted a sewage canal between the two grand drainage basins.
Obama, also a Great Lakes resident and champion of the ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has funneled about a billion dollars to protecting the world's largest freshwater system, earlier this year signed legislation that would compel the Army Corps to speed up the study, though the Army Corps said last week it likely would not make the 18-month deadline it was given. The Army Crops of Engineers is part of the Department of Defense, which makes it answerable to the president.
The only thing now standing between the giant, ecosystem-ravaging carp that can grow up to 100 pounds and eat 20% of their weight per day and the Lake Michigan shoreline is an electric barrier on the canal that the Army Corps has characterized as "experimental" and a "temporary fix" that has a history of brief shutdowns and was not turned up to a voltage strong enough to repel all sizes of fish until late last year.
So far, only one actual Asian carp has been found above the barrier, though water samples taken on the Lake Michigan side of the barrier over the last three years have repeatedly tested positive for Asian carp DNA. So far this year there have been 80 positive DNA hits above the barrier, and government fishery crews are planning to be on Chicago waterways next week with nets and fish shocking devices to see if those genetic fingerprints can lead them to actual fish.
The Army Corps maintains that a positive DNA sample doesn't necessarily indicate the presence of live fish. Officials maintain it could come from contaminated bilge water, bird feces or even the flush of a toilet from someone who had eaten Asian carp for lunch. But the scientists who developed the genetic fingerprinting technique for the invasive fish say the only way to explain so many positive samples in so many places at so many different times of year during the past three years is that at least some fish have breached an electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, about 35 miles downstream from Lake Michigan.
The controversy was the subject of a Journal Sentinel series this year .
Carp in the courts
A coalition of Great Lakes states -- including the historic battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- has sued the Obama administration over what it sees as the administration's failure to adequately protect the lakes from the exotic carp, which were first imported in the early 1970s by an Arkansas fish farmer and subsequently escaped after being deployed in federally funded sewage treatment experiments.
Obama, who campaigned in 2008 with a "zero tolerance" pledge for new species invasions in the Great Lakes, signed legislation this year that would force the Army Corps to expedite its study and provide a plan by the end of next year.
Still, last week the Army Corps said it could only provide a range of alternatives to block the migration of species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins, but it will not be able to issue a final blueprint that will actually accomplish that goal by the deadline.
That announcement prompted Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to vow to press on with his lawsuit that would force the Army Corps to expedite the work.
The Army Corps' response was termed "unacceptable" by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (R-Mich.), who authored the legislation to force the Army Corps to do more.
Despite grumbles about the pace of the Army Corps' study, the Obama administration clearly takes the threat to the lakes seriously. The federal government has set aside some $150 million in the past three years to block the carp, including $50 million for this year alone.
Much of that money is going toward increased monitoring of the fish, research into how to control their spread and the development of a more robust electric barrier system on the Chicago canal.
At a meeting in Cleveland last month that drew hundreds of environmental activists, Great Lakes advocates and government researchers, both candidates were invited to send someone to present their plans to protect and restore the five gargantuan lakes that hold about 20% of the world's surface fresh water.
The Obama campaign sent former U.S. EPA boss Carol Browner, who vowed that if re-elected Obama would continue to support his ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which since his election has steered about $1 billion to Great Lakes restoration efforts such as cleaning up toxic hotspots, protecting sensitive wetlands and native species and control efforts to block new invasions.
The Romney camp sent no one.
At that meeting Browner was asked specifically whether the Obama administration supported the idea of separating the basins by plugging the canal to prevent new species invasions.
Such a project likely would cost billions of dollars because it would require major sewage treatment system upgrades in Chicago so wastewater could once again flow into Lake Michigan instead of into the Mississippi-bound canal. It would also disrupt barge traffic on the canal, though "separation" advocates say there are ways to plug the canal and still allow, and perhaps even enhance, the flow of commodities through the region.
"The president is taking the issue seriously," Browner said at the meeting. "He's ordered the study, he's ordered it expedited, and he needs to allow the results of that study to come forward so that we can make an informed decision about how best to proceed."
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