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Great Lakes Article:

Lakes Pollution
EPA cleanup plan minus money equals slim results
Detroit Free Press
04/06/2002

Christie Whitman stood in Muskegon the other day and announced a great plan for the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, she didn't put any lousy money behind it.

How, for example, can the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promise to cut PCB levels in fish by 25 percent in five years if there's no extra money for PCB cleanup? How will anyone even know if the levels have dropped without money to augment the limited testing done by the state?

It's interesting that Whitman chose PCBs. PCBs in fish declined dramatically after the chemical was banned in the late '70s, and have now leveled off. The bigger challenges are controlling mercury emissions so they stop falling into the lakes and working their way up the food chain, and cleaning up big chemical messes like the so-called "black lagoon" in the Detroit River. Whitman wants hot spots cleaned up by 2025, but where's the money?

Restoring or fixing 100,000 acres of wetlands, another goal, will cost money that Michigan doesn't have, and probably none of the other seven Great Lakes states do either.

The one goal that doesn't require a lot of tax dollars -- stopping new invasive species -- is the one where Whitman's agency has the least influence. Either Congress or the states along with either Canada or its provinces must implement strict controls on ballast water for ships. Negotiations with shipping companies are only inching along, as are tests of how to kill any pests trying to hitchhike into the Great Lakes.

More and more experts say that alien species now pose the biggest known threat to the lakes. Chemical pollution can be cured, eventually. Biological pollution is forever. But even Whitman's weak goal -- not ending invasions, but reducing them, by 2010 -- looks pretty hopeless.

Whitman's plan says a lot of the right things about how to protect the Great Lakes. But the problems aren't new. Lack of plans and goals isn't the obstacle. Lack of money is.

 

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