Michigan balks at Obama’s stance in Asian carp fight

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it is backing Illinois in a lawsuit over how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Officials in Michigan, who brought the lawsuit, claim that Obama is favoring his home state.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff writer Christian Science Monitor

posted January 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm EST

Chicago — Michigan has reacted angrily to the Obama administration’s decision to back Illinois – the president’s home state – in a lawsuit about how to stop Asian carp from infesting the Great Lakes.

On Tuesday, US Solicitor General Elena Kagan asked the US Supreme Court to reject Michigan’s lawsuit against Illinois. The lawsuit calls for the closure of two Chicago locks on a key commercial canal that connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

On Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox asked for an immediate meeting with Obama and Michigan congressional leaders to discuss the matter. He said in a public statement he “is extremely disappointed by President Obama’s choice to protect the narrow interests of his home state.”

Mr. Cox says that the invasive species will put at risk $7 billion in annual revenue from Great Lakes recreational and commercial fishing and tourism.

Illinois State Attorney Lisa Madigan countered the suggestion that presidential favoritism was involved, saying by phone Wednesday that the allegaton “sounds like politics to me, that doesn’t sound substantive.”

Legal apples to oranges?

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is a historic waterway built in the 1920s to divert sewage away from Chicago. The Michigan lawsuit – which is supported by Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, and the Canadian province of Ontario – is based on complaints made in the 1920s that charge the canal’s unnatural diversion of water away from Lake Michigan is illegal and should be shut down. The Supreme Court declared the canal unlawful, but on four separate occasions it sought only to regulate the canal, not close it.

That fact makes the Michigan challenge moot, Ms. Madigan says. The original decree on which the lawsuit is based because it relates to sanitary issues, not Asian carp.

“It’s apples and oranges, they’re two completely separate issues,” she says.

Madigan adds that Illinois “is committed to do everything [it] can to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.”
For example, it actively monitors the canal for waterways and will perform fish kills as it did in early December when carp DNA was discovered, she says.

Lost: $30 million in revenue

Lock closures would be detrimental to the state for many reasons, including commerce, she adds. The channel generates $30 million in annual revenue, according to the American Waterways Operators, a trade association representing the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry. The canal also serves as a transportation channel for safety efforts in downtown Chicago and it redirects sewage that protects the lakeside ecosystem, Madigan adds.

“There are very significant economic, safety and environmental impacts that were not taken into account by Michigan,” she says. “We don’t want the carp in the lake either but shutting down the locks at this point could be incredibly detrimental to the state.”

The Asian carp is a bottom feeder presumed to have entered the Chicago canal from a journey begun in Mississippi or Arkansas, where the fish was first introduced to help control algae growth on catfish farms in the 1970s. The discovery of a single fish in the canal in early December raised alarms in surrounding states. The fish had never been found so far north.

The US Supreme Court is scheduled to address the filings Friday.

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