Off to Cleveland Today to Testify for Great Lakes and Oceans
Posted October 29, 2009
I'm off to Cleveland this morning to testify at the Great Lakes regional meeting of the National Ocean Policy Task Force. As a native Ohioan, I am excited to return to my home state and take this important opportunity to speak in favor of a national policy that the Obama Administration is creating to ensure protection of the Great Lakes ecosystem within a federal framework that coordinates efforts to restore, maintain, and protect our oceans and coastal waters. A national policy is necessary because, right now, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and often conflicting mandates. President Obama is showing historic leadership to create the kind of bedrock environmental policy necessary to help change this.
Efforts have long been underway here in the Great Lakes region to overcome these challenges. The Great Lakes are a vast and unique freshwater ecosystem representing 95% of the standing freshwater in the U.S. - and 20% of the world's total - that spans two countries, eight states, and two Canadian provinces. Despite this vastness, less than 1% of Great Lakes water is considered "renewable" - i.e., recharged by rainwater, snowfall, or groundwater every year. Yet as a resource, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for over 40 million people, and contribute billions of dollars a year to our economy through commercial fishing, recreation, and many other industries. Working together is not optional for us. Our health and economy depend on the Great Lakes.
And in recent years, we as a community have worked together and made significant progress toward restoring, maintaining, and protecting the Great Lakes:
- The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration has brought together state and federal agencies with tribal entities, local governments, industry and agriculture, and the public to create a planning structure and blueprint for Great Lakes restoration.
- The Great Lakes Compact has brought together all 8 states and 2 provinces to establish a binding framework that will prevent overuse of Great Lakes water.
- The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative represents an unprecedented commitment of federal resources by the Obama Administration that will allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to accelerate implementation of a comprehensive, science-based restoration plan.
Despite these successes, the Great Lakes still face grave threats that need to be addressed in any national policy. Like the other coasts, the Great Lakes are under attack from invasive species, many of which are introduced or spread from the ballast tanks of ships. As of 2006, a new invasive species was being discovered in the Great Lakes every 7 months! Sewer overflows from old infrastructure every year close beaches around the country and make people sick. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus runs off from farm fields and city streets and lawns causing algal blooms and dead zones. Toxic contaminants - the legacy of the Great Lakes' industrial past - sit mixed with sediment in the bottom of Great Lakes rivers and harbors as they do on in coastal waters nationwide. Pollution from dirty coal plants and refining dirty tar sands oil adds more mercury and other heavy metals into our waters every year. And climate change threatens to put the entire ecosystem under stress, shifting temperatures to a Southern climate, creating droughts, and lowering lake levels.
We need a national policy that allows the federal government to take quick and effective action to address these problems, as well as new problems as they emerge.
We were also pleased to see the report include a special area of emphasis on water quality and sustainable practices on land. We hope that this plan will recommend:
- Ballast water treatment standards as tough as those on the books in California and New York adopted nationwide, and ships required to install treatment technology as soon as possible, to prevent new invasive species;
- Remediation of toxic sediments from Great Lakes rivers and harbors;
- Vigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, to prevent new excess pollution from destroying any progress made and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels;
- Modernization of water infrastructure; and
- Restoration of wetlands and habitats, buffer strips next to farm fields, and rain gardens next to highways, to keep excess nutrients from polluting our waterways.
The longer we wait to take action, the more complicated and expensive the problems become.
The Great Lakes are a vital resource in the heart of America, and they need to be at the heart of a new national policy that protects all of our waters - and the food, jobs, energy, and recreation that they provide.
Tell the President you support a national policy to protect our Great Lakes, and our oceans, here: https://secure.nrdconline.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1341.
- Questions about federal policy for the Great Lakes on November 6, 2009 10:11 PM
- Michael Scott of the Plain Dealer asks if the recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force will be good for the Great Lakes. An interim report it issued in September suggested the formation of a National Ocean Council....
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