With health care hogging the headlines since President Barack Obama took office, other reform proposals have received relatively little attention. But efforts to protect the Great Lakes deserve more notice — and funding. The Obama administration’s five-year blueprint for the Great Lakes, which is made up of $2.2 billion to protect, preserve and restore the Great Lakes’ ecosystems, is only half the $5 billion that was initially promised. The Great Lakes play an important role in the already suffering state economies in the region. To provide adequate protection for this vital resource, the federal government must fulfill the rest of its pledge and provide the full $5 billion to protect the Great Lakes.
On Sunday, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson released a five-year blueprint for the Great Lakes. During Obama’s presidential campaign, he pledged $5 billion over 10 years to help the Great Lakes. The project was scaled back to a $2.2 billion, five-year commitment. It includes a “zero-tolerance policy” toward invasive species, cleanup programs for the heavily polluted areas and wetlands renewal efforts. Also included in the plan are mechanisms to watch the health of the ecosystem and to ensure that governmental departments involved in the efforts are held responsible. By 2014, the administration hopes to finish cleaning up five toxic “hot spots,” decrease how many invasive species are detected in the lakes by 40 percent, significantly reduce the amount of phosphorous runoff and protect about 100,000 acres of wetland.
These efforts are long overdue. Runoff from cities and farms has caused a variety of environmental problems, including unnatural algae blooms and even beach closings. Wetlands ecosystems have been so seriously neglected over the years that their stability is in danger. Contamination of the ecosystems of the Great Lakes can wreak havoc on the local and state economies that depend on them, as well as on the 30 million people who rely on the lakes for clean drinking water.
One of the most important aspects of the plan to protect the Great Lakes is its focus on preventing future invasions of foreign species into the lakes. For decades, the lakes have been overrun by zebra mussels, which not only harm the shipping industry by latching onto passing boats but can also block pipelines and disrupt municipal water services and hydroelectric companies.
More recently, the possibility of invasion by Asian carp has alarmed some regional state governments so much that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an injunction to force Illinois to close the waterways that feed into the Great Lakes. And this worry is justified — Asian carp have the potential to devastate regional ecosystems. With this threat at large, the government needs to provide all of the aid promised to ensure that this resource is not significantly damaged.
The five-year blueprint for the Great Lakes is a vital step towards the restoration of a central element of both Michigan’s economy and its identity. But half-filled promises aren’t enough. The Obama administration must fulfill the rest of its pledge and commit to a long-term, full-scale effort to restore and rebuild this regional asset.