The Sierra Club argues that the federal government should become involved in the drilling issue.
By MEGAN SCULLY
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- When it comes to searching for oil in the Great Lakes, the question may not be to drill or not to drill.
Instead, the real debate could be over whether to involve the federal government in an area already under the control of individual states.
Lawmakers from both parties in Ohio and neighboring states -- with the notable exception of Michigan Gov. John Engler, among others -- oppose oil drilling in the Great Lakes, citing the disastrous effects a spill could have on the region's drinking water and economy.
But they are split over how to stop the drills from entering their waters.
Legislation introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in the Senate and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., in the House would launch a two-year federal study on the environmental impacts of drilling for oil and gas.
"I am in favor of the intent of the bill," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. "But frankly, there's no link between drilling and water and sewer problems. I am not willing to put that kind of penalty into the law"
Federal involvement: Scott Milburn, a spokesman for Sen. George V. Voinovich, said the Ohio Republican also agreed with the "spirit" of the legislation, but was concerned that it would impede on territory controlled by the states. Under current law, states have jurisdiction over the five lakes.
"States have the right to manage the lakes now and they haven't demonstrated a gross failure to manage the lakes well," Milburn said.
Environmental groups, however, argue that the federal government should get involved in the issue before Michigan or any other states set up any drilling stations in the region.
"We need federal legislation because what one state does with the Great Lakes waters obviously affects others," said Emily Green, director of the Great Lakes program for the Sierra Club. "I feel very strongly that this is one of those cases where we need a unified approach."
Zebra mussels: Both DeWine and Voinovich agreed with a second piece of legislation introduced by Stabenow that would set aside $100 million in grants for research into invasive species, such as zebra mussels, which can form colonies, damaging boat engines and clogging water intake pipes.
The legislation would also require ships to discharge their ballast water, which carries the invasive species, before entering the Great Lakes
"This is putting a focus on a problem that we know that we have," said DeWine, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
DeWine added that one new invasive species enters the Great Lakes each year.
Water diversion: A third piece of legislation introduced by Stabenow would place a moratorium on international water diversion projects from the Great Lakes until Congress approves final standards established by the Great Lakes governors this week.
While international trade laws prohibit states from banning water diversions completely, the governors established environmental and public health standards whenever other countries request want to transport water out of the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the world's drinking water.
DeWine said he Stabenow's bill did not address the problem.
"This only prevents the export to foreign countries," DeWine said. "I just don't think it does a lot."