The United States General Accounting Office (GAO) recently completed a study addressing the progress that has been made in restoring the Great Lakes Basin. The study 1) looked at federal and state environmental programs that operate in the Basin and the amount of funding devoted to these programs, 2) considered the restoration strategies being utilized and their coordination, and 3) assessed the progress made toward restoration in the Basin.
The findings of the study include:
Based on these findings, the GAO recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Great Lakes National Program Office “fulfills its coordination responsibilities and develop[s] an overarching Great Lakes strategy.” In addition, the report recommends that the EPA develops Great Lakes Basin environmental indicators and a system for monitoring to measure overall restoration progress.
In a response to the report, Andy Buchsbaum, director of the Great Lakes Office of the National Wildlife Federation said “The GAO report confirms the lack of coordination, funding, prioritization – indeed, vision – of the federal agencies responsible for protecting and restoring the Great Lakes,” adding “it’s like running a company where all the departments get to do what they want: you waste a lot of time and money and the product suffers. We can’t let that happen to the Great Lakes.”
“EPA and the Corps have not delivered for the Great Lakes,” Buchsbaum said. “The Great Lakes need a strategic plan, strategic priorities, and significantly more Congressional funding to recover from decades of dredging, filling, and pollution. This effort needs to be led by state and local stakeholders, not just federal agencies. It’s time for Congress and state governments to step in and make sure that Great Lakes recovery planning is done right, and done soon.”
U.S. Representatives Rahm Emanuel (IL) and Mark Kirk (IL) recently unveiled the Great Lakes Restoration Fund, bipartisan legislation with 14 cosponsors representing congressional districts in all Great Lakes states. The bill establishes a funding source through block grants for Lakes restoration and revitalization, and outlines a vision for the Great Lakes future in the form of a Comprehensive Lakes Management Plan.
The legislation would give states restoration funding in the form of block grants, authorizing $4 billion over 5 years. In addition to providing restoration funding, the bill would create a Great Lakes Advisory Board comprised of the governors of the Great Lakes states, representatives of the federal government, local mayors and the business, scientific and advocacy communities. The board would develop a Comprehensive Lakes Management Plan that would build on the existing catalog of Great Lakes research to provide a clear vision of the Lakes’ future and recommend to Congress and states which programs should be strengthened, combined, or eliminated altogether.
Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation, said the ambitious plan arose from “extreme frustration that with all the planning and spending, Great Lakes health has stayed stable at best.” Davis added, “if the Everglades and Chesapeake Bay can do it, we can do it.” More than $4 billion will be spent on the Florida Everglades, and a $19 billion restoration project is slated for Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland.
In a similar move, on July 14, U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (OH) and Carl Levin (MI) introduced the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act that would provide $6 billion over 10 years in Great Lakes ecosystem restoration funding, would coordinate existing federal efforts, and would monitor those efforts. “The Great Lakes are a unique natural resource that we must protect for future generations, and they deserve a concerted national and local effort to save them,” said Senator DeWine. “Based on the evidence in the GAO report, it’s clear that the federal government is not doing enough to keep pace with the increasing threats to the Great Lakes. Our bill reverses that trend.”
The GAO report clearly has identified a need for leadership in the Basin, and is drawing attention to the needs for restoration funding. In the context of these discussions, a large coalition of groups coordinated by Great Lakes United released the Great Lakes Green Book, and action agenda intended to serve as a citizens’ blueprint for restoring the health of the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world. To read this citizen agenda, visit www.glu.org.