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Great Lakes compact survives House debate

ST. PAUL - Republicans fought a proposed multi-state compact designed to protect Great Lakes waters, saying it would give up too much Minnesota power, but the compact survived a Thursday Minnesota House vote.

"This is a very, very troubled piece of legislation," Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, before the full House approved the measure 97-35 at the end of a two-hour-plus debate.

Republicans tried to change the bill. But Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the proposed compact cannot be amended, so a vote to change it would kill it. The measure also is moving through Senate committees and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty supports the measure.

The compact would be like those Minnesotan officials approved with American Indian tribes, Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, said. Like the tribal compacts, the Great Lakes compact likely would last forever. It would take governors of the eight states involved to agree to abandon the compact.

Buesgens said he cannot rely on one legislator - Huntley - to provide promises. The state needs more control, he added.

Republicans, most of whom said they agree with the goal to protect water, said more legislative committees needed to consider the proposal.

The compact would outlaw movement of water into or out of the Great Lakes basin. There have been proposals over the years to move water out of the basin, including piping Lake Superior water to Texas or shipping it to China.

Huntley said the compact would be less strict than Minnesota law now requires. State law can continue to be stronger than the compact.

"We're already 10 times stricter than this compact requires," Huntley told fellow lawmakers about Minnesotans' ability to draw water out of the Great Lakes basin.

Existing uses of water - and those that begin until the compact fully takes effect - would be allowed to continue.

One Republican complaint was that a council created by the compact would get too much authority.

"We would no longer be able to control that water," Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said.

Another complaint was that governors of the eight states set up a document that legislators cannot change.

"A group of governors has forced this down our throat," Rep. Lynn Wardlow, R-Eagan, said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.