The Environment Report
9:00 am
Tue October 23, 2012

Candidates battling for Michigan's 1st congressional district debate Great Lakes issues

The candidates looking to represent Michigan’s northernmost congressional seat call the Great Lakes the “jewel of the Midwest” and a “treasure of immeasurable value.” Both say they’re committed to keeping the lakes healthy. But they vehemently disagree about the best ways to do that.

Climb the lighthouse tower at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula  -- where the two Grand Traverse bays meet … and look out over rocks and exposed bottomlands.

The shallow surf dried up years ago and levels on Lake Michigan are now at near-record lows.

Both Republican Congressman Dan Benishek and his challenger – former state Representative …and Democrat …Gary McDowell say that concerns them.

But in a recent debate – Benishek – who’s a surgeon – said he’s skeptical of claims this has anything to do with climate change.

“Well, frankly, I’m not sure how significant global warming is.  I spend a lot of time in the sciences and I’m not sure what’s happening with the climate.”

A bi-national report from the International Joint Commission earlier this year listed uncertainties for Great Lakes water levels due to climate change – including reduced ice cover in winter …and more evaporation year-round. It also says local rainfall may mitigate those effects in lakes Michigan and Huron.

Benishek thinks the bigger concern is that dredging near the southern end of Lake Huron in the middle of last century has lead to water losses for both lakes.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman in Detroit says… there have also been times of record high water levels since that last dredging.

In debate, Gary McDowell responded – it’s crazy to ignore the science behind global climate change.

“I think just virtually every scientist who’s not working for BP, the Koch brothers or Dr. Benishek agree that we have to do something.”

The candidates in this race are not leaving the negative messaging to outside interest groups.

Benishek has criticized McDowell on his business record.

The McDowell campaign has repeatedly criticized Benishek for his environmental voting record.

Clip from political ad: “Dan Benishek voted to get rid of our clean water laws and let cement companies put more mercury in the lake. Gary McDowell’s the one looking out for us. I think we need a congressman like that.”

Benishek: “You know, it’s just amazing to hear these repeated attacks...

Again… Dan Benishek:

"I didn’t vote to gut the Clean Water Act, that’s just not wrong [sic]. We haven’t voted to put more mercury in the lakes, that’s just not true. You know, we are working to stop the over-reach of federal bureaucrats in Washington.”

Benishek did vote to amend clean water laws – to restrict federal regulators from imposing new standards … unless the states approve.

Likewise – he did vote to repeal emissions standards for cement manufacturers.

But Benishek says – these were not votes cast to allow more pollution … but to end what he calls “job-killing” federal regulations.

Thoughtful decisions – he says – that shouldn’t be reduced to soundbites.

Benishek says – as the state with the most fresh water shoreline in the basin – Michigan is best poised to set its own standards.

Gary McDowell disagrees.

“The Great Lakes are bordered by eight states, two Canadian provinces. How can you have that many rules and regulations and making sure that they are protected?”

Benishek and McDowell agree on this: whoever takes the seat in January will represent the congressional district with the most freshwater shoreline in the country… and a place where recreation and tourism are not just fun and games.

They're key economic drivers.