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Great Lakes Article:

Protecting the Great Lakes
Published December 13th, 2004

Much fanfare has surrounded the Bush administration’s proclamations to protect the Great Lakes – which supply 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply. But the president’s words about improving water quality and preventing further degradation represent only a symbolic success until the cleanup includes specifics about how much money is needed and how to equitably split the bill.

In May, President Bush signed an executive order recognizing the Great Lakes as a national treasure and calling for a regional collaboration to protect the lakes. On Dec. 3 government leaders from the Great Lakes region met in Chicago and signed the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. That was an agreement for a coordinated strategy to clean up the Great Lakes and the contributory waterways that feed them. It united the federal Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, Great Lakes Tribes, the Great Lakes Congressional Task Force and other groups in an effort to decrease pollution, remove invasive wildlife species and protect against other environmental dangers. The Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to announce the final plan within one year.

Unfortunately, any discussion of how to pay for the plan was non-existent. According to the New York Times, the conspicuously missing information about financing the cleanup was deliberate. Michael Levitt, the EPA administrator in charge of the plan, said the purpose of the collaboration is to build coalitions, expand existing programs and prioritize goals so that whatever money becomes available is well spent. He acknowledges that the total amount of money the federal government, states and Canada are spending on Great Lakes cleanup is not clear. The General Accountability Office estimates that $1.7 billion was spent last year on 33 federal and 17 state Great Lakes environmental protection programs.

It is a significant achievement to get agreement from all of the necessary partners, and more will be accomplished when all those interested in protecting the lakes are working together to achieve the same goals. Now the Bush administration needs to show its sincerity by detailing all the current projects, providing federal dollars and ensuring that the money is spent appropriately.

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