[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In a display of bi-partisanship, Illinois’ two U.S. senators—Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Dick Durbin—introduced legislation in Congress late last night to protect the Great Lakes from sewage dumping into the lakes.
The Great Lakes Water Protection Act would increase fines to up to $100,000 a day per violation by 2031, providing communities 20 years to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities. Currently, fines are capped at $37,500 a day.
Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund created by the legislation to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection and wastewater treatment systems.
U.S. Reps. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) and Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) plan to introduce the same bi-partisan measure in the House.
All four federal lawmakers held a news conference at the Shedd Aquarium on Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline last week to discuss their support for the measure. Kirk and Lipinski sponsored a similar bi-partisan bill in the House four years ago.
“With this new bi-partisan push in both the Senate and the House, we believe we can make real progress toward protecting our Great Lakes—the crown jewel of the Midwest’s ecosystem,” Kirk said. “Polluters need to know that dumping toxic waste into a source of drinking water for 30 million people will not be tolerated.”
Durbin said he looked forward to taking on Great Lakes polluters.
“Three and a half years ago, when we learned that BP was planning to increase the pollutants it puts into Lake Michigan – the people of Illinois stood up and said no. Polluting our lake further is not an option,” said Durbin. “This legislation tackles another significant threat to the water system--municipal sewage. I intend to work closely with Senator Kirk and Congressmen Lipinski and Dold to ensure that this national treasure is around for generations, providing drinking water, recreation and commerce for Illinois and other Great Lakes states.”
Besides increasing fines for sewage dumping, the legislation would make it easier to assess fines at existing levels, beginning a year after the bill’s passage.
While the City of Chicago has been able to limit sewer overflow with projects like the Deep Tunnel, other cities dump directly into the lake. Researchers estimate 24 billion gallons of sewage get dumped into the Great Lakes each year.
The sewage dumping poses environmental, financial and public health hazards.
Illinois Department of Public Health data shows Lake Michigan beaches were closed or had contamination advisories 628 times in 2009, an increase of 17 percent from 2008.
A University of Chicago study concluded the closings due to high levels of harmful pathogens like E.coli cost the local economy about $2.4 million each year in lost revenue.