For several years, the Great lakes region has been coming together to plan and secure funding for Great Lakes restoration. With the new administration, changes in Congress, and widespread support for economic stimulus spending, 2009 could be a breakthrough year for Great Lakes restoration efforts. I asked my good friend and former colleague Chris Grubb, who is the field director for the Healing Our Waters® Great Lakes Coalition, to provide the inside scoop on the various Great Lakes restoration initiatives and what the changes in the political landscape mean for the prospects of Great Lakes restoration funding. Chris has tremendous experience with both regional organizing and on the ground Great Lakes restoration work, and agreed to write this guest post:
Since the release of the region’s blueprint for Great Lakes restoration – the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy – in 2005 there has been increasing unity among the region’s environmental organizations, governors, mayors, business leaders and others about the importance of funding the GLRC Strategy. With a massive new economic recovery package on the near horizon and a new President arriving in Washington from the shores of Lake Michigan, there’s reason to be optimistic about 2009. As field director of the Healing Our Waters® - (HOW) Great Lakes Coalition, and someone that spends more time than probably any person should following this stuff, I’m pleased to offer a recap of recent happenings.
In Michigan, Lt. Governor John Cherry and the Office of the Great Lakes last week released the state’s own Great Lakes blueprint, the MI-Great Lakes Plan (pronounced “my Great Lakes Plan”), meant to better focus its efforts to implement the recommendations of the GLRC. Detroit Free Press editorial writer Barb Arrigo poked a little fun in a blog post last week mentioning she heard once that one could walk end-to-end across Lake Superior without getting one’s feet wet on top of the plans written for the Great Lakes. But Arrigo gave credit to the plan, and I would as well for three reasons.
First, the Lt. Governor has put a lot of his own time, energy, and political capital into pushing the plan and indications are that he will continue to do so. Second, the release just ahead of the debate on the economic recovery package and the start of the new Administration is excellent timing for keeping this issue on the minds of our federal leaders. Timing is everything. Third, the plan’s architects have committed to developing implementation teams for the various parts of the plan, which are slated to get into gear this spring. This part – tapping into the local knowledge of residents all over the state to move ahead on a shared agenda for the lakes – will be critical.
Meanwhile, Members of Congress have re-introduced legislation meant to implement the GLRC Strategy and unveiled the outlines of the House’s economic recovery package.
Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH), and Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) re-introduced the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act (GLCIA). Both bills are similar to the legislation that all three members introduced last Congress. The HOW Coalition issued a statement about the introduction of this legislation last week. Our region is very fortunate to have the unwavering support of these and other legislators in Congress for restoring the Great Lakes. The GLCIA has served an important purpose these past two years, but has proved difficult to advance legislatively and relies too heavily on the whims of the annual appropriations process to pay for restoration. The HOW Coalition and other stakeholders are working to craft complementary legislation that would help fulfill the Obama pledge to create a Great Lakes Trust Fund. We hope to be a good way toward introduction in time for Great Lakes Day in Washington, so stay tuned.
Finally, a quick word about the recently unveiled House economic recovery package and its impact on the Great Lakes. The House package includes $6 billion for sewage infrastructure upgrades through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. We think the Senate could make some improvements and are supporting a dear colleague letter on the topic, but if this money comes through it would be a huge win for Great Lakes restoration. All too often families are turned away from the beach because of sewage overflows after big storms. With the specter of climate change bringing flashier, larger storms to the region, it’s critical we bring our sewage infrastructure into the 21st century - with an emphasis on green technology - to protect our families and our waterways. We can’t do that without a partner in the federal government, and I look forward to the unfolding debate on this important legislation.