Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor Tuesday to question the Obama administration's efforts to protect an endangered Kentucky fish by keeping water levels lower than normal at Lake Cumberland, which would hurt recreation on the lake.
The fish, known as the duskytail darter, were discovered in nearby tributaries of the lake. Federal wildlife officials believe raising the lake's water level would run the risk of putting the fish in open water, threatening their survival.
"Last week the Obama administration sided with this minnow over the economic well-being of thousands of people in Southeastern Kentucky who live near or depend on Lake Cumberland as a major driver of commerce, tourism and recreation," said McConnell, who is up for re-election and has a tea party primary challenger. McConnell has butted heads with the administration on most of its environmental policy, particularly on coal.
The water level was lowered seven years ago because of problems with the dam that feeds the lake, which McConnell said has taken its toll on the region.
But work on the dam is dome and the water level was expected to be returned to its normal level this year.
"Now suddenly the Obama administration has announced that the water level cannot be raised because it could — could — potentially have a harmful effect on this minnow," McConnell said.
"Let me get this straight," McConnell said incredulously. "The radical environmentalists in the Obama administration don't want this fish to be exposed to too much water? What next?"
McConnell sent a letter Monday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed by Kentucky Republicans Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Harold Rogers and Rep. Edward Whitfield, urging that a solution be found that can allow for the restoration of the water level.
"The story of the darter would be humorous if it weren't so harmful to the economic well-being of the thousands of Southeastern Kentuckians," McConnell said.