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Senator Kirk, If You Are Not Addressing Climate Change, You Are Not Addressing the Health of the Great Lakes

06/26/2015 12:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

Lake Michigan Sunset image by Anne Swoboda via Flickr

Visit NRDCs Switchboard BlogClimate is the biggest threat to the Great Lakes. As we have noted before, if you're not addressing climate change, you're not addressing the health of the Great Lakes.

That is what makes a vote last week from Senator Mark Kirk so disappointing. Throughout his time in Congress, he has cast himself as a defender of the Great Lakes. But a decisive vote to prevent the EPA from enforcing efforts to cut carbon pollution puts Senator Kirk in the camp of folks trying to kill the most essential tool to safeguard the Lakes over the long-term.

And his reflexive response to criticism of that vote vividly reinforced how his votes don't match his public persona. Just read this galling statement from inside-the-Beltway coverage:

Aides said the spending bill that was the subject of the EPA amendment highlights his record. It includes a provision Kirk sponsored aimed at preventing pollution in the Great Lakes.

"Sen. Kirk's legislation creates a strict new ban on sewage dumping in the Great Lakes, including a $100,000 per day violation and the creation of a fund to build new treatment plants," said Kevin Artl, Kirk's spokesman. "The simple truth is that Sen. Kirk is responsible for the most aggressive measure ever taken to protect the Great Lakes."

Artl declined to answer questions about Kirk's vote on the EPA amendment or about his record on climate change, as did the senator.

Oh, the hyperbole here. Trumpeting a sewage bill as THE most aggressive measure EVER taken to protect the Great Lakes? Really?

What about the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (generally referred to as the "Great Lakes Compact") adopted by Congress at the request of the Great Lakes States and Provinces to protect the Great Lakes Basin?

Or the Clean Water Act? (Actually, we know the Senator is aware of that one since he voted against bolstering the Clean Water Act in 2013...)

Oh...and about that sewage measure the Senator's staff mentions. We supported that measure. Unfortunately, it was tucked into a broader appropriations bill that includes other items that threaten Great Lakes water. The broader appropriations bill slashes funding for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (SRFs), which are an essential tool used by state and local governments to fund water infrastructure projects that protect our water. The committee's website includes a summary that estimates the bill would result in 230 fewer water infrastructure projects, 14,000 fewer jobs and $1 billion less in matching fund investments from states.

Senator Kirk sits on that committee, and he voted for the appropriations bill that cuts the very funding source states and municipalities rely on to fix their aging infrastructure and prevent things like....um.... sewage overflows. That is the very problem his bill is supposed to address. The appropriations bill also blocks the Clean Water Rule - essential clean water protections that the Senator has been told were essential if he wanted his bill to have any real meaning. All of that amounts to the opposite of Great Lakes protection the Senator is claiming he supports.

But the bigger issue is climate.

Climate change is the biggest threat the Great Lakes have faced: turbocharging existing water pollution problems like algae blooms, cutting back the ice pack essential for shoreline stabilization, sending water levels plummeting and rising in ways that threaten the communities along their shores. Climate change is intensifying problems that already threaten the Great Lakes' collapse.

The most potent way for Americans to address this problem is the Clean Power Plan. It is an historic effort to slash the dangerous carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.

Senator Kirk cannot oppose the best opportunity in America to fight climate change and claim to be protecting the Great Lakes at the same time. The Senator had a choice: vote for climate action--or vote with the polluters, against the wishes of Illinoisans who overwhelmingly support fighting carbon pollution.

He voted wrong.

His actions threaten the very Lakes that he purports to protect. So if he is not defending the Great Lakes, who is Senator Kirk standing up for?

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.