Q&A: Michigan Attorney General Talks about Asian Carp

Attorney General Mike Cox Speaks on Carp

Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue
Great Lakes’ politicians gathered in Michigan last month to discuss the severity of the Asian carp threat in the area. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox spoke during the conference, and asked attendees to commit to closing off the Great Lakes from the infested Illinois River.

Circle of Blue speaks with Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox about the fight to protect the Great Lakes against Asian carp.

By Steve Kellman
Circle of Blue

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox waded into the Asian carp fight in December with a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit that would close Chicago-area locks that could allow Asian carp into the Great Lakes. Cox, a Republican who is running for governor, sought a permanent separation between the Great Lakes and the carp-infested Illinois River. Though the Supreme Court rejected his lock closure request in January, Cox promptly refiled the request. Citing new environmental DNA evidence and other studies, Cox asserted that the threat is more immediate than first thought and that the economic consequences of lock closures are less detrimental than Illinois has claimed. He also launched a Web site, StopAsianCarp.com, to garner support for his legal position and petition signatures that would urge President Obama and the U.S. Congress to order the locks closed.

Cox, who’s served as Michigan’s attorney general since 2003, spoke about Asian carp and his legal efforts with Circle of Blue last week during a public rally in Traverse City.

How did you get involved in the Asian carp issue as a political issue to begin with?

Six years ago we sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to come up with standards for ballast water–discharge from ships–in a federal court in California. Four other Great Lakes states joined in with us. We prevailed last year after five years of litigation. There’s a court order that the EPA and the Coast Guard have to come up with BOB standards—ballast on board standards.

In line with that here in Michigan, I pushed legislation that created a ballast water permit. Michigan’s [permit] was the first in the country. We’re actually defending that in federal court right now.

At the same time that all that was going on we were watching and interacting and seeing what’s going on with the Asian carp. Of course we were told over the past five years that the Army Corps of Engineers had it under control and that they were coming up with the right sort of systems of containment, including the electric barrier. We now know that’s been inadequate.

How effective has StopAsianCarp.com been for you in terms of mobilizing support?

We’ve gained 80,000 folks on it. We give them fodder to make phone calls and write letters. Since we’re still in the fight, it’s hard to gauge how successful it is. But certainly for those 80,000 people it’s given them a place to talk and learn about what’s going on with the issue.

Is this the first time that you’ve taken to the Internet this way to press an issue?

On the issue of child support, we set up a Web site. We also have a Web site called SeniorBrigade.com, where seniors or their family members can go to get assistance. But nothing on this scale where we’re pushing on a small-p political issue to get some specific policy passed.

What’s your opinion of the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework overall?

Parts of it are good. More testing and looking at other barriers, and also doing testing in some of the tributaries are all good things. My biggest problem is there’s no sense of urgency, but instead a sense of fiddling while Rome is burning. Once a big enough colony of carp gets into Lake Michigan and starts reproducing, or moves into the St. Joseph River, that could very well be the end of it. They are a different kind of pollutant. Unlike how oil spills dissipate over time, or the economic downturns bounce back, Asian carp are biological pollutants. They reproduce and get worse with time.

Is this issue bigger than Asian carp, and if so, how?

It’s bigger than Asian carp in the sense that it fits under the umbrella or family of invasive species. I was just at the Grand Valley Center in Muskegon, Michigan the other day. I was talking to biologists about mussels sucking the energy out of Lake Michigan. That’s going to have an effect on trout and salmon populations over time.

Steve Kellman is a Circle of Blue writer and reporter. Reach him at circleofblue.org/contact.

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