The international commission that keeps an eye on the environmental health of the Great Lakes will hold public hearings later this month on a report that looks at water use in the basin. And as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports, the findings are not pleasing to some environmentalists:
The international commission that keeps an eye on the environmental health of the Great Lakes
will hold public hearings later this month on a report that looks at water use in the basin. And as
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports, the findings are not pleasing
The International Joint Commission asked a team of experts to examine water issues including
use and diversion, climate change, and conservation. The report says the problem of water
overuse in the Great Lakes has been overstated in the past three decades, while conservation has
been underestimated. It also calls the prospect of diverting water to arid southwest states “a dead
Cameron Davis is with the Lake Michigan Federation. He says the report fails to recognize the
issues that will face the Great Lakes in the long term.
“One of the concerns that I have is that, in saying we’re not using that much water, that the
hidden message is don’t worry. We don’t have a problem.”
But the U.S. chair of the IJC, Dennis Schornack, says recognizing the pitfalls of faulty
projections is important to shaping future water policy.
The Commission will hear public comment on the report before drafting its own plan to present
to the governments of Canada and the U.S.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, established an agency to monitor the environmental effects of trade between the U-S, Canada, and Mexico. In a new report, the agency gives NAFTA mixed reviews. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein explains:
In 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, established an agency to
monitor the environmental effects of trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In a
new report, the agency gives NAFTA mixed reviews. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s David Sommerstein explains:
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation found little evidence overall of what
environmentalists’ most feared from NAFTA – more pollution and lower environmental
standards. The study finds trade-related advances in technology have, in some cases,
helped the environment. But it attributes to NAFTA more air pollution from trucks at
border crossings. And businesses seeking out lax regulations can create pollution
hotspots. The report points to a 400% rise in hazardous waste shipments to Canada as an
Chantal Line Carpentier is a spokesperson for the CEC. She says all three countries need
strong laws to make NAFTA environment-friendly.
“It’s not only an agreement on trade and goods, it’s also on investment, so that you need
to have the policy in place and also the flexibility to put policy in place as soon as there’s
some sort of hotspot that develops.”
Still, environmental groups remain concerned that competition for investment will trump
environmental policy when it comes free trade.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day, logging companies work near protected wildlife, and smoke from factories fills the air; but the Canadian government has a new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads
of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day. Logging companies work near
protected wildlife. And smoke from factories fills the air. But the Canadian government has a
new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
“We’re just coming up to this facility on the right-hand side here now.”
Brad May slows down and scans the area surrounding a squat concrete building. It’s owned by a
company that was once under suspicion for illegal dumping. We’ve come here so that May can give
a sense of what happens when he places a company under
“As you can see, its a fairly old factory in a fairly industrial area in the north of Toronto
involved in the recycling and reconditioning of containers used for paints and coatings and
lubricants and that sort of thing.”
May pulls into a nearby driveway obscured by weeds. As he sips a cup of coffee, he looks like a
typical investigator – right down to the khaki uniform. The guy in the back seat, however,
probably wouldn’t get a second look. He’s wearing jeans and
a plaid shirt. And he lets May do most of the talking. His name is Mark Pomeroy. And, not
surprisingly, he’s the spy. Out on surveillance, he doesn’t have much to say. But he does point
out an 18-wheeler that’s
parked a shipping container in front of the building.
“You’ll notice here you have a container and the container has various bunch of
numbers on it. That’s very good information. What shipping line did it arrive from, who’s hauling
it as far as the carrier is concerned and you can find out if the items they’re receiving would
indeed be something we’d be interested in looking at as far as a potential violation is
Pomeroy searches for trends in industries where there’s an incentive to pollute.
For instance, if the price of pork drops, he’ll watch for hog farmers looking for a cheap way to
dump their manure, or mechanics might be offering great deals on freon, a highly regulated
chemical that’s used in
old air conditioners. That could prompt a visit to some local garages in search of illegal
imports. A lot of times, Pomeroy teams up with customs officers, the police and
Environment Canada investigators.
He says his job is different than that of a typical officer. He tries to anticipate the next
wave of environmental crime.
“Whereas they might focus on one specific case, intelligence would look at that and say, you’re
dealing with this type of a problem, is that prevalent with these types of companies…which in turn would say, okay inspections, don’t just
focus on this particular company. Look at A,B,C,D companies also.”
Here in his office, Pomeroy locks the door before he settles into a comfortable chair.
There’s a bit of a James Bond feeling here.
Secrecy is highly valued.
There’s even white noise piped throughout the building, to reduce the chance of being overheard.
As he talks about whistleblowers and anonymous tips, it’s clear that Pomeroy loves his job.
“I like law enforcement. I find it kind of a stimulating challenge to see somebody who thinks
they’re so smart that they’re doing this and they’re getting away with it, and it’s very gratifying to
actually go after that type of a person, exposing them and if it’s a violation, prosecuting
Pomeroy is one of six environmental spies in Canada and part of the only environmental
intelligence unit in the world.
The unit was created in 1998 to improve enforcement of the new laws enacted under the
Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It’s a big job, but for Pomeroy, the best part is when he’s working in the field.
He cultivates informants – looking for internal whistle blowers and unhappy competitors. And
he’ll trail suspicious cars and conduct drive-bys on companies to gather information. Pomeroy
says his main goal is to find the big fish operating in the shadows of an industry.
“The big thing for an intelligence officer is to look at the unknown community. Are there people out there
who have never come forward and gone through the process of registering with us or gone
through the licensing or noticing permits? It’s up to me to see if they are actually out there
are they circumventing our regulations.”
But Pomeroy has been hampered by the fact that he’s the only environmental spy in the province
That’s soon to change. He’ll be joined by a second spy as Environment Canada doubles the size
of its intelligence unit.
That’s welcome news for environmentalists like Jerry DeMarco. He’s the managing lawyer with
the Sierra Legal Defense Fund. And his group argues that the Canadian government is not
enforcing its own environmental laws.
The group filed a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement. And an internal
government report backed up their claims.
DeMarco says the new officers are arriving at a crucial time.
“They need more resources for two distinct reasons. One is they haven’t had enough to enforce
the laws that do exist and also there’s been the passage of several new laws and regulations in
past few years that also require enforcement staff.”
For instance, Canada is adding new chemicals to its list of toxic substances. That’ll mean more
work for the investigators who track them.
Mark Pomeroy acknowledges it’s still a fledgling operation. And he’s spending much of his time
building trust – with industry sources, law enforcement, and even environmental groups,
but he’s confident that trust will translate into valuable information – which will make it
for companies that continue to break the law.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
Government, industry, and activists work to inform people about individual threats of non-native invasive species. However, there is no comprehensive approach to reducing biological contamination of the Great Lakes region.
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of
foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc
to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s
not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Here’s a factoid for you. In the United States alone in the 1980’s and ’90’s, it’s estimated
that it cost more than two-billion dollars to keep zebra mussels from clogging up water
intake pipes. Two-billion! Guess who paid for that? You did – in higher bills.
Zebra mussels are an invasive species. That is, they are native to a foreign place and they
were transported here – like many invasives – by a ship. Zebra mussels were sucked up in
ballast water in a foreign port and then pumped out in a Great Lakes port. The zebra
mussels have spread all over the Great Lakes, in huge numbers. They attach to
everything, including intake pipes. They’ve crowded out native mussels. And zebra
mussels eat the microscopic plant life at the bottom of the food chain, making fish more
scarce and causing fish prices to go up.
And that’s just the beginning. There’s been something like 160 invasive species such as
foreign fish, aquatic nuisances, plants, and insects brought into the Great Lakes region
one way or another and each one has caused problems. Dutch elm disease kills trees. A
fish called round goby eats the eggs of native sport fish. Invasive mites are killing off
“People aren’t outraged about it. And they’re not outraged about it because, I think, we in
the public interest community and the government side haven’t done what it takes to
clearly communicate why this is a problem to people.”
Cameron Davis is with the Lake Michigan Federation, an environmental group that
works to get policies changed in the Great Lakes basin. Davis says most of the time
people just don’t understand that because the government is not doing enough to stop
invasive species from entering the country, it ends up costing them and takes a toll on the
“When zebra mussels, for example, get into drinking water intakes, municipalities have to
pay to keep those things out of there. That means higher rates for you and me. For other
people, fishing is impacted. Invasive species getting into the lakes can mean competition
for those native species like yellow perch because of round gobies, because of zebra
mussels and other invasive species getting into the Great Lakes.”
The government agencies which work on these kinds of problems know about them and
some things have been done to try to prevent new invasive species from being introduced
or control them once they’re here.
Tom Skinner is a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and also heads up the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office. Skinner says there
are several obstacles to stopping the invasions.
“One is identifying all the possibilities out there. Two is identifying how they get into the
lakes. Three is coming up with a technical solution to deal with the invasive nature of the
species. And four is getting the resources to make sure that you put the technical
solutions into place.”
And there’s another problem – government agencies, much like people, tend to deal with
one problem at a time. For example, sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes after a canal
was opened. They decimated lake trout populations. Government agencies attacked that
problem. Asian carp are threatening to spread from the Mississippi River system into the
Great Lakes through a canal. Government agencies are putting up barriers. One problem
equals one fix.
Tom Skinner’s counterpart in Canada, John Mills with Environment Canada, says
governments are beginning to realize that stopping the spread of invasive species cannot
just be fixed one problem at a time.
“It isn’t a simple problem of just focusing in on ballast water. It’s a much broader
problem. You can get organisms coming in on wood or other commodities that will take
up residence in the basin and create havoc.”
So, there are lots of ways for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes region. But the
Lake Michigan Federation’s Cameron Davis says no one seems to be looking at the
“We’ve got a number of different gateways to get into the Great Lakes, but we have all
kinds of different departments looking at A) individual gateways, or B) looking at
individual species. Nobody’s really there to pull it all together. We have a big
institutional problem that way.”
And there’s no one movement among environmental groups or consumer groups to
pressure the governments to step back and look at the policies that allow shipping and
trade to continue to easily transport invasive species into the Great Lakes region.
The EPA’s Tom Skinner says government agencies are working on it.
“We’re going to continue to work with the Coast Guard, with the Corps of Engineers,
with our friends to the north in Canada and try and come up with a comprehensive
solution to these various invasive problems. But, it’s easy to say; it takes a great deal of
work and effort to do that.”
And government agencies are not getting any real kind of public pressure to do it because
the public doesn’t realize the price it’s paying for invasive species.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The recent elections mean that there’s a power shift in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that a group made up of Great Lakes states governors will change dramatically:
The recent elections mean that there’s a power shift in the region. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that a group made up of Great Lakes states
governors will change dramatically:
Of the eight Great Lakes states, five of them have elected new governors. And most of
the new governors are from a different party than their predecessor.
“Actually, this is the largest turnover in one election cycle that the Council’s had in its
twenty-year history. ”
That’s Maggie Grant with the Council of Great Lakes Governors. The council deals with
issues surrounding the Great Lakes and trade in the region.
“We don’t see major policy shift, although, we look forward to the new energy and ideas
of our governors that they bring to the table.”
Coming to the table are a lot more Democrats. Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and
Pennsylvania all elected Democrats to replace their Republican governors. Grant says
party affiliation isn’t that important to the group – fighting for the Great Lakes region is.
For the Great Lakes Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Companies who fear that their greenhouse gas emissions may soon be regulated are being offered a new alternative. A Virginia-based firm has created an emissions trading system that will capitalize on telecommuting. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
Companies who fear that their greenhouse gas emissions may soon be regulated are being
offered a new alternative. A Virginia-based firm has created an emissions trading system
that will capitalize on telecommuting. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
The company is called “Teletrips.” And it’s created a system in which industries that
need to reduce their emissions can buy credits from businesses with large numbers of
Teletrips president Mary Beatty says the trading system would force polluters to buy
credits to offset the amount they pollute. They’d buy the credits from companies who
keep their employees off the road.
“We felt like if you could find an incentive that would motivate companies to set up
(programs) trip reduction programs and (be able to quantify that) and give them some real
financial benefit back for creating those programs, that was much better than mandating
The company’s software converts the number of trips saved by working at home into the
amount of emissions averted.
It’s currently being pilot tested in five U.S. cities.
For the Great Lakes Radio consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
The courts have ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot keep the whereabouts of endangered species secret. The ruling comes in a case where a builder tried to find out whether there was an endangered species on land he wanted to buy for development. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The courts have ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot keep the
whereabouts of endangered species secret. The ruling comes in a case where a builder
tried to find out whether there was an endangered species on land he wanted to buy for
development. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Fish and Wildlife Service says it didn’t want to reveal whether it found endangered
species on private property, afraid it would lose the trust of private landowners if it made
the information public. So, when the National Association of Home Builders filed a
request for the locations of an endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service omitted
all the sitings on private land. Jerry Howard is the CEO of the home builders group. He
says builders need that information.
“Our members who are looking at buying land in areas affected will be able to make
informed decisions and comply with the regulations because they’ll know what they’re
walking into. And we’ll be able to protect the species ’cause we’ll know that they’re
there and we’ll be able not to do things that harm their habitat.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service could appeal the ruling because it sets a precedent that
could be used by any group to determine where endangered species are located.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
This week, researchers, government agencies, industry and environmental groups will gather in Cleveland to try to assess the environmental health of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
This week, researchers, government agencies, industry and
environmental groups will gather in Cleveland to try to assess
the environmental health of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Every other year scientists, policy makers, and people who make their living from the
lakes gather to try to hammer out some definitions. The meeting is called the State of the
Lakes Ecosystem Conference, or SOLEC for short. SOLEC is designed to come up with
a set of measurements that will be used to define the environmental health of the Great
Lakes. The initial set of measurements, or indicators as they’re called, was 850. It
included everything from numbers of certain rare birds to amounts of certain toxic
chemicals. That was too much to measure over the long term. So the participants are
trying to come up with a much smaller list of key components of the Great Lakes to
gauge whether there’s improvement or deterioration in the overall health of the lakes.
This year’s meeting is just one more step in the process. It will probably be another four
years before SOLEC comes up with a final suite of indicators that can be measured
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Seven of the eight Great Lakes states have governor’s races next month. One analyst says the results of those elections could affect how well the states work together on the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Seven of the eight Great Lakes states have Governor’s races this month. One analyst says
the results of those elections could affect how well the states work together on the
environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.
There will be at least four new governors in the Great lakes region, due to incumbents
stepping down. Political scientists say a fifth incumbent may be voted out of office.
Barry Rabe is a professor of environmental policy and public policy at the University of
Michigan. He says the eight governors have traditionally agreed on some issues like
diversion of water. But Rabe says the upcoming elections could affect more contentious
“I think where other challenges emerge are on issues like air pollution – where you
literally may have prevailing wind patterns so that say, the pollutants that begin in Illinois
may wind up in Michigan and other states – and how states could work cooperatively to
resolve those issues.”
Rabe also says more of the Great Lakes governors may soon have to work together on
water quality and global warming. Democrats hope to gain several governor’s seats in the
region. But Rabe says for cooperation purposes, personality may be more important than
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
Some of the nation’s leading environmental organizations say President Bush has drafted a ‘slash and burn’ budget when it comes to the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports: