The Supreme Court denied today for the second time a request to temporarily close Chicago-area waterways as the justices decide whether to dive into the interstate lawsuit over invasive Asian carp.
The decision to reject Michigan's renewed injunction request was announced without comment this morning as part of the court's first set of orders since returning from recess. The justices considered the request at a private conference Friday.
Michigan's request, submitted last month after new test results detected Asian carp in Lake Michigan for the first time, was a last-ditch effort to force the closure of the locks after the Obama administration declined to take that action. In an Asian carp response framework released last month, the administration pledged to spend $78.5 million preventing the fish from entering the Great Lakes but did not commit to lock closures, which have been fiercely opposed by Illinois' shipping industry.
Supporters of the lock closures say the structures -- the O'Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works -- would provide the most effective additional protection against the short-term spread of the ravenous fish, which could threaten the fishing and recreation industries in the Great Lakes if they manage to establish a permanent population.
After today's Supreme Court decision, the Obama administration will have its hand on the rudder until the Supreme Court decides whether to reopen a 90-year-old case over Illinois' management of the waterways connecting the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes. Michigan and several other Great Lakes states have asked the justices to appoint a special master, who would gather evidence and issue recommendations to settle the dispute.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying short-term options for the Chicago-area waterways. According to the framework, the agency will determine by April 30 whether it will close the locks, do so on a timetable or not close them at all.
Briefs are due today in the broader case for Illinois and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The Supreme Court is scheduled to review Michigan's request to reopen the decades-old case on April 16, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (R) said in a statement today.
Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Detroit-based Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said last week he did not expect the court to consider such an "extraordinary" injunction, but the court might be more willing to have a special master examine the facts of the case. Cox, who filed the lawsuit and the two injunction requests, said he believes the court will take that action.
"Our motion was an extraordinary attempt to protect the Great Lakes, but we felt it was necessary to because the Court deserved to have access to the new DNA ... before making a decision," Cox said. "We will continue to focus on the reopening of the diversion case in April."