On January 29, representatives of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition met with 26 key members of the Great Lakes congressional delegation to urge action on issues of vital importance to the region. Representatives of the Coalition included Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Traverse City, Northern Michigan, Milwaukee, the US Chamber, and K&L Gates, the Coalition’s legal counsel. Many thanks to the 20-plus individuals representing these groups who fanned out in five inter-chamber teams to cover all the appointments.
The visits focused on the development of sustainable funding sources for the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization process, completion of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization pending in conference committee, action on immigration reform – or at least high-skilled immigration – and concern over re-proposed EPA standards for new source CO2 emissions from power plants.
The Coalition shared its priorities in a four-page brochure and individual briefs for each of the issues. Here’s our take on where things stand:
Surface Transportation Reauthorization – MAP-21 expires in August. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held an initial hearing. There is a possibility of a continuing resolution,
followed by a big push in the lame duck session after the elections. This will be a fertile field for the Coalition’s advocacy of sustainable funding sources. Legislators are interested in our ideas.
WRDA – Negotiations are continuing between the two House and Senate leaders, Representative Shuster and Senator Boxer. Both remain optimistic that they will hammer out their differences on the
two measures which were so overwhelmingly passed. Key Great Lakes and inland waterways provisions appear secure for now. In addition, the omnibus budget bill appropriated an additional $200 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and Coalition team members asked the legislators to sign the House and Senate letters of support for a fair allocation to the Great Lakes Navigation System.
Immigration Reform – This issue has more twists than a pretzel. Optimism for action in the House was higher during our visit than it is now. However, there still remains a chance that the House will
pass some elements of immigration reform, including provisions for higher levels employment-based immigration, which the Coalition has been urging. The Coalition is adapting its strategy as the playing-field unfolds.
New Source CO2 Emissions Standards (also called NSPS, or New Source Performance Standards) – Since there are few large-scale new sources coming on line, the real threat in this re-proposed set of rules is the spread to existing power plants and other large users. Team members expressed this point in the meetings, and legislators generally were supportive.
In other developments, Coalition members took the opportunity to thank Congress for its strong commitment to fossil energy R&D (National Energy Technology Laboratory), the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the additional dredging allocations.
When will the Coalition fly-in again to DC? There may be a need in the spring, depending on how events unfold.
-By Rebecca Schneider