"The compact contains major loopholes that could allow water to be transferred outside of the basin and could result in the privatization of Great Lakes waters for commercial sale, thus undermining the intent of the agreement," warned U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in an Aug. 20 letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

The compact prevents Great Lakes water in containers 5.7 gallons or larger from being exported outside the natural drainage basin. The agreement exempts water used to produce a product that's transferred out of the watershed -- for instance steel or beer. The problem is, the compact defines a product as intended for "intermediate or end-use consumers" and bottled water could fall under that definition, Kucinich said.

Work on the compact intensified after public outrage in 1998 when a Canadian company wanted to sell in Asia the equivalent of 50 tankers per year of Lake Superior water.

"Here we are, 10 years after, with a compact that will allow diversion of water. It significantly limits pipelines and tanker trucks and freighters full of water ... (but) they're allowed to leave the Great Lakes with containers full of water," said Dave Dempsey, spokesman for Conservation Minnesota. "The Great Lakes don't know the difference."

Kucinich, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and some environmentalists want Congress to close the loopholes by adding language and clarifying that the lakes are public property and not for private profit. That could be done without sending the compact back to the states, said Jim Olson, an environmental law attorney.

Olson said clarifying the language wouldn't harm Northwest Indiana farmers or industries, such as U.S. Steel Corp., ArcelorMittal and BP.

"It does not affect any industrial users whatsoever because they don't sell water in containers ... And if it's a valid product, like beer or pharmaceuticals or farm products, the water's not being sold, the product is."

Cameron Davis, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said the provision shouldn't stop the adoption of the compact, which also requires states to regulate their own large-scale water use and promote conservation.

"I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. This compact does far more good than this one provision does bad," Davis said. "It doesn't create a loophole. It simply gives states the ability to manage water the way they see fit. If a state wants to ban bottled water, they can do that ... There aren't enough bottles in the world to send out water in the quantities we'd worry about."

Jacob Ritvo, spokesman for the bill's co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said the provision is worth another look.

"This provision is something that's worth considering. We'll have to see how it plays out and what, if any, corrections may be necessary to address it," he said.

In recent months, legislatures in eight states, including Indiana, and two Canadian territories have adopted the compact, which must be ratified by Congress to take effect.

The compact has been approved by the Senate and a vote is pending on the House floor when Congress returns to session Sept. 8.

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