Detroit News Washington Bureau
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/
Washington— U.S. Rep. Candice Miller is championing the Great Lakes as the lone Michigan representative among a group of bipartisan lawmakers seeking compromise on critical legislation that would authorize long overdue dredging and harbor projects.
Miller, R-Harrison Township, co-sponsored the House version of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that passed in October with bipartisan support in a 417-3 vote. The Senate approved its version in May by a vote of 83-14.
The Senate bill would cost $12.2 billion over 10 years, compared with $8.2 billion in the House version, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Both the House and Senate versions include provisions written by Michigan lawmakers to better direct federal funds to end the backlog of Great Lakes dredging projects, but Miller is at the table with three dozen lawmakers to ensure such language makes the final version of the legislation.
In kicking off the talks Nov. 20, Miller highlighted the importance of the Great Lakes to the nation’s drinking water supply and shipping industry. She advocated new language that treats the Great Lakes for the first time as a single navigation system instead of pitting its ports against each other for federal funding.
“I come from Michigan — the Great Lakes state,” Miller said. “The Great Lakes are in our DNA — that is our very identity.”
The House-passed version includes provisions written by Miller and fellow Michigan lawmakers — Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland — designed to treat the Great Lakes as one unit for budgeting purposes and to ensure their harbors receive adequate funding.
Huizenga said the legislation would help shorten the dredging backlog in the Great Lakes and better position harbors to compete for needed funding. They have been hampered by an estimated 18 million cubic yards of sediment clogging Great Lakes ports and waterways.
The Senate-passed bill included key provisions championed by Michigan Sens. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, to also reduce the backlog of Great Lakes dredging projects. They fought for increased spending for harbor maintenance, priority funding for ports and language to better ensure the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is spent on its intended purpose.
Levin and Stabenow recently joined 11 other senators in sending a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for at least 15 percent of all money spent from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund annually to be used for supporting the Great Lakes navigation system.
In opening the conference committee, chairwoman and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and her house counterpart, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., expressed optimism they can build on bipartisanship and find agreement.
After Miller spoke, Boxer assured her the Great Lakes would not be forgotten.
“If I could recount how many times I heard the words ‘Great Lakes’ during our deliberations, it would please you,” Boxer said. “So I think with all the fighting for the Great Lakes, I don’t think you have to worry too much about the final product.”
Detroit News Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.