Congresswoman Candice Miller understands the importance of the Great Lakes. She grew up on the water in Harrison Township. She is a proudly conservative Republican, not crazy about government spending.
But she knows that if the Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, the waterways may be largely destroyed. Destroyed, that is, as a center of recreational and commercial fishing and boating, activities worth billions every year.
Two species of Asian carp, silver and bighead, have been working their way up the Mississippi River ever since escaping from catfish farms in Arkansas in the 1980s. They suck up vast quantities of food, starving out native species of fish. Silver carp, which can weigh 60 pounds, also have a nasty habit of jumping, injuring people and damaging boats.
Miller knows if we do nothing more than we have been doing, odds are that the carp will be established in the lakes, and once they are there, we’ll never get them out. So earlier this month, she introduced a bill that would actually do something about it.
HR 4001, the Defending Against Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2014, would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to permanently close the canals connecting the Mississippi with Lake Michigan within six months after the bill is passed. These are artificial waterways dug in the 19th century.
This, she believes, is the only sure way of keeping the carp out of the lakes. “We would just be undoing the damage we did to Mother Nature years ago,” she told me.
The congresswoman is right about all of that. But her bill faces very long odds. Earlier this year, a long-awaited Corps of Engineers study presented a series of alternatives for stopping the carp. Sealing off the canals was seen as the most drastic and most expensive option. They said it would cost at least $18 billion and take more than a quarter of a century.
Candice Miller is one of a number of analysts who don’t think it would take anywhere near that long or cost that much. The dirty little secret is that the canals were dug in the first place to allow Chicago’s raw sewage to flow away from the city and into the Great Lakes. Some of that price tag involves building a new wastewater treatment plant for Chicago.
Miller is sympathetic to the concerns of barge operators and others who would be hurt by closing the canal. She would even be open to compensating them.
But unless there is a drastic change in attitude, her bill has little chance of going anywhere. Her fellow Republican, Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, attacked it immediately. President Obama, who is from Chicago, opposes closing the canal.
Yet the Congresswoman’s bill has drawn a lot of editorial support in both the United States and Canada, and has been endorsed by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. It is well known that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.
Congresswoman Miller is proposing doing something radical and radically important. What is undeniable is that if we don’t take this threat more seriously, we are all going to pay.