Discussion and research about the water quality of the Great Lakes has been going on for decades. United States and Canada officials are involved along with private organization representatives, some of them activists that are anti-crop protection chemical and synthetic, commercial fertilizer use for conventional farming.

It was back in 1976 that the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) was signed by the U.S. and Canada. There have been subsequent GLWQAs. What has been going on has not been top of mind for most of those living in the drainage basin of the lakes. It has appeared that bureaucrats have talked and written reports incessantly, but there has been very little news and publicity reported by regional or national news media.

It appears a political process that could lead to regulatory activity might finally be around the corner. If new regulatory practices and rules are enacted, one way or the other, there will be repercussions to agricultural operations. Change seems inevitable sometime in the future. How unreasonable the regulatory process could become is something that should scare the agricultural community, according to many who have been watching and involved in discussions.

“Just like the Chesapeake Bay is one region of concern, the Great Lakes is another one. We need to get the word out. We need to have awareness that things are going on because there is potential for mischievousness in regulatory oversight,” said Steve Taylor, executive director of the Missouri Agri-Business Association and consultant for the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA).

A look at the federal rules and regulation involvement in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay is a prime example of what can be down the road for the Great Lakes, but required on a much larger watershed and drainage acres, plus involving Canadian ideas for enforcement.

The governments of Canada and the United States per the “2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement,” or latest GLWQA, agreed to implement programs of the GLWQA by establishing the Great Lakes Executive Committee (GLEC).

This action as of April was proclaimed as a way to finally make progress. The second meeting of the GLEC is scheduled to be held in September in Milwaukee along with the Great Lakes Commission annual meeting during Great Lakes Week.

Great Lakes Water Issues Are a Concern

The week is planned to be “featuring the annual meeting and conferences of diverse groups who are leading the fight to restore the Great Lakes,” as noted on the organization’s website of www.glc.org. That week will be followed by Great Lakes Days in Washington, D.C., March 4-6, 2014.

“The agreement between Canada and U.S. kind of lays out how we are going to move forward, but the agreement isn’t like any treaty. The agreement empowers states and other agencies to provide incentives for tougher regulations, policies, and procedures within federal law. So, I guess what it can do is provide momentum and serve as a focusing mechanism on new programs,” said Taylor.

The GLEC has empowered 10 “annexes” or committees to work on separate aspects of the lakes’ water quality. In conjunction with this is the goal of establishing protocol for chemical management strategies for chemicals of mutual concern (CMC) by both countries. According to Taylor, advocates of ‘safer’ chemicals in the Great Lakes region have singled out certain chemical substances for chemical

substitutions (i.e, outright replacement). Advocates refer to toxic chemicals of “emerging concern in addition to legacy compounds.” The process for compiling the final list is just now getting underway. Yet to be established are procedures to “implement programs to manage CMCs that apply principles of ‘virtual elimination’ and ‘zero discharge.’”

Linking safer chemical regulation with water quality regulation could lead to some major changes in the way that agricultural operations are overseen and eliminate agricultural tools and technology. Money to advocate and investigate big changes has been and can continue to be funneled through the EPA for GLC and committee activity without asking Congress for authority or congressional funding stipulated specifically for this activity.

At the same time as the water quality issues of the Great Lakes are becoming hotter than in the recent past, there is new emphasis about chemical safety. In the U.S. Congress, the reauthorization or rewriting of the 20-year old U.S.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is being scheduled for formal debate.

According to the Council of Great Lakes Industries (CGLI) of which MACA is a member, there are at least 21 federal legislative and regulatory programs in place “that require registration, reporting of use and release of information and data on environmental fate and effects associated with chemicals.”

But what also is occurring is several state legislatures and their EPAs are looking at having their own safe chemical lists and procedures for establishing those lists. Some of those states are wanting to take a precautionary approach where a chemical can be declared highly unsafe without science and risk analysis.

“The bill in Congress to reform the TSCA has a very strong pre-emption wording that CGLI supports. It would prevent states that don’t have the science behind its rules and regulations of chemistries from pre-empting federal law, and the federal law would require a science-based approach in deciding the risk analysis of chemistries,” Taylor noted.

Because there are some individuals being appointed to the committees or annexes that want chemical safety to be based on the precautionary approach rather than a completely science-based approach, those in agricultural industries, including farmers, should probably be concerned.

“You’ve got this safer chemistries activity and you’ve got these Great Lakes annexes dealing with chemicals of mutual concern. One of the first activities is how to define chemicals of mutual concern,” Taylor added.

“You have a group of people that don’t want to pay attention to science; those are the precautionary people, and then you have those of us who think everything we do has to be based on scientific analysis,” he said.

In working with and for MACA, Taylor’s job is education on issues of concern to the agricultural chemical industry, but as the executive director of the Missouri Agribusiness Association, he does have a lobbying function.

In either case, he thinks those in agriculture have a responsibility to work with Congress, the EPA and the Great Lakes Committee to educate and advocate for the interests of agriculture.

Taylor is encouraging people in agriculture to become educated about these issues and become involved and participating as advocates for process and regulation that is fair and equitable to agricultural industries, including crop protection manufacturers and agricultural retailers. He states that a great way to become involved is to join and be active in organizations like MACA.

The Great Lakes Initiative has been around so long in the background, and people who will be impacted have kind of let the bureaucrats and those with an activist point of view talk, compile meeting minutes and write low-action reports.

But as Taylor said, “One day soon they could actually break through and do something silly affecting agriculture.”