With no cash,
Great Lakes plan a washout
1 , 2002
RAHM I. EMANUEL
Bush may not be much of an environmentalist, but he's
a pretty astute politician. Many political pundits believe
that the Great Lakes states will be key to the 2004 election
outcome. And, indeed, Bush has paid repeated visits to
this region and its critical swing states of Michigan,
Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Other than his ranch
in Crawford, Texas, he has spent more time in the Great
Lakes states than anywhere outside of Washington.
it was certainly no accident that U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency Administrator Christine Whitman recently announced
a new "Great Lakes Strategy 2000" to protect
the region's key natural resource. The Great Lakes provide
daily drinking water for 28 million people and recreation
for millions more. They generate $4.5 billion a year in
tourism and recreation-related revenue and enhance the
quality of life in hundreds of lakeside communities. Their
economic value is reflected in the hefty premiums paid
for lakefront high-rise apartments with stunning views
and for pricey shoreline properties.
this tremendously valuable resource is suffering from
significant environmental challenges. Sadly, mercury contamination
has resulted in widespread "fish advisories"
warning women of childbearing ages and children to limit
their consumption of Great Lakes fish. Coal plants and
waste incinerators produce most of this mercury pollution
as well as sulfur dioxides, which cause acid rain.
sewer overflows in urban areas regularly pour raw sewage
directly into lake water, while agricultural runoff containing
fertilizers and pesticides adds non-point source pollution.
Last year, the Chicago area alone experienced 599 beach
closings--the highest number on record.
General Accounting Office report cited that none of the
26 contaminated areas in the United States section of
the Great Lakes had been cleaned up, and only half have
a plan for how they would be cleaned. In 1987, the United
States agreed with Canada to clean up all 43 of the contaminated
sites in the Great Lakes. To these threats, and others,
the Bush administration now has responded with its "Great
Lakes Strategy 2000."
is recent precedent for political imperatives driving
progressive environmental policy. In 2000, President Bill
Clinton proposed and Congress enacted an $8 billion program
to protect and restore the Florida Everglades. But the
timing of the Clinton-Gore Everglades initiative was hardly
accidental. Conventional political wisdom held that Florida
would be pivotal in the November 2000 presidential election.
The Everglades initiative may have had political benefit,
but it was a case where good government was good politics.
commendable in concept, Whitman's announcement of the
Great Lakes initiative had an essential and fatal flaw:
zero funding. The plan's potential benefit to the president's
2004 re-election is completely undermined by his failure
to back it up with federal dollars. This oversight is
amplified when other regions of the country are reveling
in federal assistance aimed at solving their environmental
problems. The federal government has established the aforementioned
Everglades Trust Fund and provides billions of dollars
to alleviate pollution from sewage runoff in the San Francisco
Bay, Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound. Yet, the Great
Lakes--an arguably more important asset--remain a federal
Great Lakes are a national treasure, and their restoration
should be a national priority.
the Bush plan acknowledges, we know the extent of the
pollution problems, their causes and how to solve them.
We must establish a Great Lakes Trust Fund that actualizes
the federal commitment to their future. If the environmental
imperatives cannot persuade Bush to make that investment,
the political imperatives should.
Emanuel, a former senior policy adviser to President Clinton,
is the Democratic nominee for Congress from the 5th District