Download audioDiane S. Katz testifies before U.S. Senate committee (Apple QuickTime)

(Note: On March 16, 2006, Diane S. Katz, the Mackinac Center’s director of science, environment and technology, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about the condition of the Great Lakes. The above video clip of her testimony is six minutes and 30 seconds long. The following article appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of "Mackinac Center Impact.")

The halls of the U.S. Senate echoed with new ideas on March 16, when Diane S. Katz, the Mackinac Center’s director of science, environment and technology policy, testified to a Senate committee about the state of the Great Lakes. Katz marshaled an impressive array of scientific and public policy data to shed light on costly new legislation — and she politely but firmly stood her ground when challenged.

The legislative proposal, titled the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, would provide $20 billion in new federal funds for the "restoration" of the Great Lakes. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works took testimony on the bill from Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow; Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine; Stephen Johnson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; George Kuper, president of the Council of Great Lakes Industries; Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation; and Katz, who was invited by the committee staff.

Among the witnesses, Katz was alone in challenging the bill’s underlying assumption that the Great Lakes are on the verge of collapse. Citing a variety of scientific sources, Katz described dramatic improvements in Great Lakes water quality and wildlife recovery in recent decades.

Katz was also alone in challenging the notion that Congress and the states have failed to devote sufficient resources to Great Lakes protection. Recent Mackinac Center research has discovered the existence of more than 200 government programs to improve the Great Lakes ecosystem, Katz told the committee. The programs are not coordinated to maximize environmental improvements, she added, and most lack measurable goals.

"The shortcomings of the current approach stem not from any lack of regulation or resources," Katz testified. "On the contrary, the problem is the excess of well-intended but ill-conceived programs that fall under disjointed regulatory agencies at the international, federal, state, provincial and local levels. Unfortunately, the problem will not be remedied by more unwieldy and inefficient regulation."

Having delivered good news about the Great Lakes and bad news about government oversight, Katz offered recommendations for improving Great Lakes stewardship. Ironically, she had some difficulty in delivering this last, most important part of her testimony, because a senator temporarily presiding over the committee interrupted her before her allotted time was up. She nevertheless pressed for permission to continue, suggesting that Congress consider eliminating inefficient programs; using property rights and market-based incentives to revive designated "areas of concern"; seeking private-sector involvement in crafting policy; and developing a basinwide database of ecological conditions to help set restoration priorities.

During the question-and-answer session, Katz encountered hostility from two of the senators, who claimed that she was misguided and who invited other witnesses to challenge her. Katz deftly defended herself, however, and cited verifiable scientific sources for her conclusions. "That part was easy," she notes, "since on this issue, I was right, and they were wrong."

The overall reaction to Katz’s testimony was highly favorable. Her remarks particularly impressed the committee’s staff members, who invited her to submit written testimony in response to additional questions posed by the committee members. Her second submission, replete with charts and references to peer-reviewed scientific research, also drew praise, with a senior committee staff member writing Katz: "Diane, this is great! Thank you so very much."

Both rounds of Katz’s testimony have been posted to the Center’s Web site (visit www.mackinac.org/7651 and www.mackinac.org/7700). Katz plans to track the progress of the legislation and weigh in as necessary — but whatever the bill’s outcome, it’s unlikely the Senate committee will forget her testimony.

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