This coming year will likely see some major policy decisions regarding the Great Lakes. Because the lakes stretch out along eight states in the U.S. and two provinces in Canada, getting all the governments to agree on issues is a long and sometimes trying process. But… those involved think 2005 will be the year that some real progress on Great Lakes issues will be made. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham recently talked with the Chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission, Dennis Schornack. The IJC deals with disputes and advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues regarding the Great Lakes:
This coming year likely will see some major policy decisions regarding the Great Lakes. Because the Lakes stretch out along eight states in the U.S. and two provinces in Canada, getting all the governments to agree on issues is a long and sometimes trying process. But those involved think 2005 will be the year that some real progress on Great Lakes issues will be made. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham recently talked with the chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission, Dennis Schornack. The IJC deals with disputes and advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues regarding the Great Lakes:
The International Joint Commission and the Government Accountability Office both have been critical of the U.S. government for not finding clear leadership on Great Lakes issues. Different agencies sometimes find their efforts overlap or conflict with others. At times, it seems there’s no organized effort to restore the health of the Great Lakes. Dennis Schornack says he thinks things were starting to get better because recently appointed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt took a real interest in the Great Lakes. But now Leavitt is leaving to become the new Health and Human Services chief.
“It’s going to be hard to beat the enthusiasm of Mike Leavitt. He spent literally about fifty percent of his time as EPA Administrator in the Great Lakes throughout. He was everywhere this past summer. But it does fall to the new administrator, whomever he or she may be; but in the meantime, the governors and mayors are proceeding forward on the priorities that they set over a year ago, and fleshing those out into very tight kinds of recommendations.”
Countless studies and reports on the Great Lakes point out one of the biggest threats to the lakes is invasive species. Those are foreign critters such as zebra mussels and round gobies that hitchhike in the ballast water of cargo ships, or are introduced unintentionally. Often the invasives damage the native fish, plants, and ecosystems of the Great Lakes. Nothing has been done to effectively stop importing the invasives, and some have gone so far as to suggest that the St. Lawrence Seaway connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean should be closed. The IJC’s Dennis Schornack says he’s hopeful that we’ll soon see laws that will do more to help prevent invasive species from getting into the Lakes.
“In the United States, at least, there is pending legislation that has been pending for over two years now called the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act. This legislation is overdue. It’s time for Congress to act on it. And in the ’05 legislative Congressional year, it’s time for them to act. And that’s the place where the standards get set, the authority gets established and where all of the rubber really hits the road. Now, that’s just in the United States. Bi-nationally, because the Great Lakes are a shared resource, the IJC, that I’m the chair of the U.S. section, has continued to advocate cooperation and collaboration between the two countries in terms of at least setting a common standard, a common rule, common regulation on the Great Lakes. Because, obviously, setting it on one side of the boundary line doesn’t do any good if the other side doesn’t follow.”
Another issue that’s recieved a lot of attention in the Great Lakes region recently is water diversion. A document called Annex 2001 tackles the issue of how much water can be used or withdrawn from the Lakes. The various state governors and province premiers put together draft agreements for public comment. Schornack says there’s been a huge response, and a lot of it hasn’t been positive.
“They recieved, I think, over ten-thousand public comments. And there is differing viewpoint, a growing difference between the view taken in Canada and the view taken in the United States on this effort. Canada, the province of Ontario, has come out and point-blank opposed the existing documents. There are concerns in Canada that this is just some kind of a ruse to somehow allow diversions of the Great Lakes waters to occur. I’m not part of that viewpoint, to tell you the truth. What’s being done right now and what will happen in 2005 is that the comments are being digested, we’ll see new draft documents come out from the governors and premiers and hopefully begin the process making those agreements stick.”
Schornack says 2005 will also see some important reports on the economic costs of invasive species. Studies on the logistics of shipping, cargo ship traffic and alternative freight haulers and design plans that look at the total cost of shipping – including the infrastructure costs and the environmental damage caused by invasive species. It should be an interesting year for the Great Lake if Congress moves on key issues, and then finds money to make the Great Lakes more sound.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.