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
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.