WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Collins and State Sen. Rob Ortt Thursday tried to jump-start the mysteriously stalled nominations of three members of the international panel that tries to regulate water levels on the Great Lakes.
The two lawmakers sent separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, asking him to push for quick approval of former Assemblywoman Jane Corwin as chairwoman of the International Joint Commission, along with President Trump's nomination of two other IJC commissioners.
“We are again seeing an increase in water levels within Lake Ontario, which is a concern for myself, local governments, homeowners, and businesses,” Collins, a Clarence Republican, said. “We cannot wait until our community is impacted by another flooding disaster to take action, and the IJC cannot act without these nominations moving forward in the Senate.”
Six other House Republicans joined Collins in signing the letter, which also went to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, and the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will consider the nominations.
President Trump named Corwin, of Clarence, to head the IJC last year, while also naming Robert C. Sisson and Lance V. Yohe to seats on the IJC. But the Senate never acted on those nominations, so Trump had to reappoint them once the new Congress took office in January.
It's unclear why the Senate has not moved forward on the IJC nominations. Neither Schumer nor Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also a New York Democrat, placed a hold on the nomination.
Instead, it appears likely that the delay is due to the slow-moving nature of the Senate and the comparatively low-level status of the IJC.
Collins and Ortt stressed, though, that the appointments are important to Lake Ontario residents who suffered $90 million in flood damage two years ago. Collins and Ortt are among those who blamed the flooding on the IJC's Plan 2014, which changed the way it adjusts water levels in hopes of protecting wetlands. And they hope that the new IJC commissioners could change the way the organization manages water levels in hopes of preventing future flooding.
"We must give the appointees ample time to consider what precautionary steps can be taken and to implement preemptive safety measures to protect the homes and businesses along Lake Ontario’s south shore," said Ortt, a Republican from North Tonawanda. "We have seen the damage and devastation that can occur if Lake Ontario’s water flow is left singularly to Canadian representatives on the IJC."
Eleven state legislators joined Ortt's letter to McConnell. Ortt said it was a coincidence that he and Collins both reached out to McConnell on the same day.