Once Again, the Supreme Court Supports Asian Carp

Published on May 3rd, 2010 | by

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the third attempt this year by Michigan to battle the possibility of Asian Carp getting into Lake Michigan and decimating both the fishing industry and the native ecosystem. Earlier this year Michigan’s suits against Illinois with the backing of Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota also failed. In a nutshell, in the lawsuit Michigan is asking Illinois and the Army Corps of Engineers to close two Chicago shipping locks that connect the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes water system. Illinois is concerned about the economic impact.

Photo Credit: kate.gardiner The ongoing legal battle between Michigan and Illinois centers around the Asian carp
The ongoing legal battle between Michigan and Illinois centers around the Asian carp

The most recent legal maneuver by Michigan tried to re-open Supreme Court cases from the 1920’s dealing with how much water could be diverted from Lake Michigan into the Chicago lock system. Michigan’s argument centered around the argument that the Chicago waterway system has evolved into a conduit for Asian carp to enter Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.

In the 1970’s, Asian carp were imported to eat algae in ponds, but the fish escaped into the larger water system. As they reproduce rapidly and take over new water ecosystems, they are a particularly dangerous invasive threat.

The Federal government’s Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued that there is no connection between the present Asian carp issue and the lawsuits from the 1920’s. She is probably right in a legal sense, but I agree with Michigan’s  Attorney General Mike Cox when he said in January:

“We don’t want to have to look back years later . . . and say, ‘What was the matter with us? We should have done something.’ [Closing the locks was] ‘the easiest, the most reliable and the most effective’ [short-term step].”

In yet another example of how the battle between environmental sustainability is butting heads with industry, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our judicial system has been molded by a century of argument and precedent that favors industry, making it all the more difficult for environmental issues to gain a foothold. And that may end up making it easier for an invasive species to gain theirs.


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1 comment

  • Mike Cox is prescient; future generations no longer able to enjoy the Great Lakes will wonder what we were thinking. Thanks for writing about this impending disaster, Scott. First, Chicago is allowed to ship its waste down the Mississippi River and now it’s being allowed to abrogate its duty to protect the Great Lakes from an invasive species that will ultimately destroy the ecosystem of this precious resource.

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