Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Compact Killers Are Gearing Up in Ohio

The same small band of naysayers and corporate water carriers who tied up the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin's State Assembly are doing their thing in the Ohio State Senate, according to Ohio media.

Their leader is State Sen. Tim Grendell, mentor to Wisconsin State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin).

Both argue that the Compact should be sent back to the eight Great Lakes states that took four years to negotiate it and 28 more months to approve it - - though Grendell's key demand, brought to a State Capitol study committee by Lazich last year, was labeled irrelevant to state law here by Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources water experts.

An indeterminate period of further negotiations would add years in which the Great Lakes remain vulnerable to mismanagement.

And would no doubt tick off the other states that have worked more productively than Ohio and Wisconsin to bring the Compact through their legislatures and into their statutes.

Renegotiation opens up everything.

Lazich and Grendell cannot control exactly which portions of this lengthy agreement get modified once the Compact is back on the table.

And that could hurt some municipalities if renegotiation led to horsetrading, compromises and power plays that, for instance, could remove one key exemption inserted specifically to help communities at the edge of the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin and Ohio, like New Berlin (ironically, Lazich's home town).

The exemption grants them easy access to Great lakes water - - a benefit not accorded to those communities under current federal law.

That's why New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero wants the Compact, under which only Wisconsin and not the other seven states could vote on a diversion application.

It's a privilege in the Compact just for communities that, through accidents of geography, literally straddle the boundary of the Great Lakes basin.

Chiovatero is the one with the grassroots water supply problem to solve, and regulatory consent decrees to honor - - but get this:

He is being fought by Lazich, his own State Senator, and the entire Waukesha County legislative delegation.

All of whom are Republicans, by the way, (the mayoralty is a non-partisan office) taking their talking points and marching orders from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and pretending, like Grendell, that the changes they want in renegotiations they don't control are minor only.


One change they seek is letting fewer states approve out-of-basin applications for water to help relatively more distant municipalities like the City of Waukesha win diversions.

Because all eight Great Lakes share control of the waters, current federal law and the Compact require those distant communities to obtain the states' unanimous approval.

Since the procedure is already in the federal law, and gives the states protection against unwise diversions of waters they all share, why would any of them give it up?

Do Lazich and Grendell not know how to read the very simple federal statute - - the Water Resources Development Act of 1986?

Are they forgetting that the makeup of state legislatures and governors' offices can change, with perhaps more sustainability-minded decision-makers calling the shots?

Do they not know that both Akron, Ohio and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin did win the unanimous diversion permission for diversions, after careful planning and skilled interstate communications?

Or do they not know how to count to eight, recongizing that one is a smaller number for New Berlin, and that a five or six will not satisfy the other seven who have nothing to gain by making up rules just to help one or two of the states?

Letting a community like Waukesha obtain water with only a majority of the states' approval would be like asking the other National Football teams to allow the Green Bay Packers to make a first down with only six yards.

Grendell and his counterparts in the Wisconsin legislature are not interested in helping New Berlin's Mayor solve his water and regulatory problems, or in at least winning a set of standards and application procedures for Waukesha that improve on the Federal legal process.

Waukesha's mayor Larry Nelson (in another non-partisan position) supports the Compact as it was approved by Wisconsin's State Senate on a bi-partisan, 26-6 vote.

Somehow Lazich and Grendell know what's better for Waukesha than the Waukesha Mayor? Or the New Berlin Mayor?

Here is the truth about these so-called minor changes allegedly availabe through quickie renegotiations among eight states from Minnesota to New York:

The naysayers prefer the game-playing side of politics, turning the Compact into a political football to keep away from Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

There's the pleasure.

For Lazich, or State Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem), or key Assembly natural resources committee chair State Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), the Compact is an opportunity for speech-making and cozying up with the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and other special interests.

Legislating on behalf of local taxpayers and Great Lakes preservation - - things which are not mutually exclusive if you are serious about your job?
Nah - - let's play the partisan, special-interest game.

And if they were to win this renegotiation, and New Berlin lost its favored diversion status - - approval by only the home state, not all eight or even a majority - - or if the diversion rules got toughened for Waukesha and other more distant communities, Lazich and Grendell could ask for another round of negotiations.

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