In the spring of 2004, President Bush created a task force to develop a comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan. The group recently released its final recommendations. But members already disagree about the future of their proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee reports:
In April 2004, President George Bush created a task force to develop a
comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan. The group recently
released its recommendations, but members already disagree about the
future of their proposal. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn
Efforts to improve the Great Lakes face a major hurdle. Local, state and
federal programs overlap and sometimes duplicate one another. That
wastes a lot of time and money. President Bush wanted to change this. So, he
created a task force called the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. For the
first time, cities, states, federal agencies, and Indian tribes would agree to
specific goals and how to reach them. By most accounts they succeeded.
Here’s Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“I can’t overstate what a major step forward this is for the Great Lakes.
For the first time, we’re all the same page with a common vision.”
The parties agreed to eight major goals. Among other things, they want
to restore wetlands along Great Lakes shorelines, they want to clean up
heavy metals that pollute lakebeds, and they want to keep sewage away
from public beaches. The cost for all this would stand at billions of
dollars, and that price tag caused a major rift.
Bush administration officials agreed to spend 300 million additional
dollars per year. That’s just a fraction of what states and environmental
groups hoped for.
Derek Stack is with Great Lakes United, an advocacy group. He says
states want to participate, but sometimes they can’t.
“I think a lot of the states simply don’t have the dollars necessary to pull
Tribes, cities and states are being careful with their criticism. They want
to keep the door open for the administration to change its mind.
“To be fair to the federal administration, the states are saying we don’t
have federal money, and the feds are pointing out that we don’t exactly
have state money either, but the states have committed themselves to the
plan. So, now that they know what they’ve committed themselves to, the
budget building can begin. It’s hard to build a budget if you don’t have a
Some critics are more strident, though. Illinois Congressman Rahm
Emmanuel says the administration needs this clear message. Federal
leadership requires federal money.
“There’s either action or inaction. This is the ninth report in five years,
and I hope it’s the last report. Now, there’s nothing that can’t be cured when
it comes to the Great Lakes that resources can’t take care of.”
Great Lakes advocates and state governments will be watching the next
few months closely.
Cameron Davis directs the Alliance for the Great Lakes. He says he’s
reserving judgment until the President releases a budget proposal.
“That budget will be released the first week of February, and if it has 300
million dollars in new funding, then we’ll know that the administration’s
serious. If it doesn’t we need to ask Congress to step in.”
Some legislators say that deadline might be too soon to judge the
ultimate success of the restoration plan.
Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk says other federal cleanup efforts came
after several reports and years of waiting. Congressman Kirk says the
prospects for the restoration plan are good. The Great Lakes region has
the strength of eight states standing behind it.
“When you look at the success of the Chesapeake Bay, and then the success
of protecting the Everglades, you see, once you come together with a
common vision, what a unified part of state delegation or in the case of
Florida, what an entire state delegation can do.”
On the other hand, it might be hard to keep eight state governments
focused on a common purpose.
There’s another wrinkle in the restoration plan as well. Canada lies on the other
side of the Great Lakes, and any comprehensive plan will require its
cooperation as well.
For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.