Alliance for the Great Lakes
Sept. 14, 2007
H.O.W. Conference: Great Lakes Moment in Time is Here
Capitalizing on the upwelling of public support for the Great Lakes in the wake of a BP proposal to increase pollution discharges to Lake Michigan was a key refrain at the 3rd Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Chicago.
Using that momentum to propel support for federal legislation on issues ranging from endangered species to Great Lakes restoration to the Great Lakes water use compact is critical particularly given next years presidential election, political leaders stressed throughout the event.
The conference was dedicated to creating a new standard of care for the regions waterways, said Cameron Davis, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes -- which hosted the Sept. 6-8 conference. The standard should no longer be about limiting harm. It should not be the status quo. The new standard of care should be about proactively, positively restoring the Great Lakes so that this generation leaves it better than the way we found it.
Sponsored by the Healing Our Waters Coalition, the conference was attended by more than 250 scientists, environmentalists, business and community leaders, regulators, tribal leaders, lawmakers and recreational interests.
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, (R-Ill.), said this summers BP controversy in Whiting, Ind. which saw public and political pressure force the oil giant to back away from a plan to discharge nearly 1,500 pounds of ammonia and 5,000 pounds of suspended solids from treated sludge into Lake Michigan presents Great Lakes advocates with a rare opportunity.
The silver lining of the BP issue is there is a growing consensus on behalf of protecting the Great Lakes, Kirk said, adding there should be an effort now to have every congressman sign a pledge to protect the Lakes.
There is so much more support than you can imagine, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), We tested it. We took on one of the biggest oil companies in the world and at the end of the day, they backed off.
But Durbin warned that simply stopping BP is not enough to save the regions waters.
The thing that should keep us going is how many people are rooting for us, he said, citing a reported 100,000 petitioners who rallied against the BP proposal. Its up to us to show the leadership -- to bring them forward.
U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, (D-Ill.), said the upcoming 2008 presidential election is the perfect opportunity to make critical progress on Great Lakes issues, such as securing federal support for an initial $300 million investment in restoring the Great Lakes.
The moment in time for the Great Lakes is here and now, he said. The future to winning the presidency is winning the Great Lakes area the key time to raise the Great Lakes issue on the national political stage is during the presidential cycle.
Emanuel said no Democrat can win the White House without winning Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois and upstate New York; and a Republican who wins two of those states is nearly impossible to beat.
A newly galvanized public that is now attuned to the value of Great Lakes protection provides an even greater opportunity to earn critical support for Great Lakes issues, he said.
They now feel about the Lakes the way people around the Grand Canyon and Yosemite feel about those places, Emanuel said. We have something that we have not had for the last 15 years ... let's do something with that.
Other conference highlights:
* Great-Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy: David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, said that though there hasnt been as much progress during the last year as was hoped, Some good things have happened and will continue to happen in the future.
The strategy, unveiled by federal, state, local, tribal and environmental leaders in late 2005, is a comprehensive plan for restoring Great Lakes health that calls for investing $20 billion over 15 years to fund a variety of improvements.
You have to be absolutely relentless on this, Ullrich said. You realize it is an absolutely huge task.
* A cost-benefit analysis, conducted by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and released on the eve of the conference, determined that restoring Great Lakes health will create $50 billion in economic benefit for the region -- about twice what it will cost to restore the Lakes. Doug Roberts, in charge of the Michigan Chamber of Commerces energy and environmental policy work, emphasized that a healthy Great Lakes is good for the states and regions economy.
The report, Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem, concluded that economic gains will come from increases in tourism, the fishing industry, recreational activity and home values.
* Great Lakes Compact: Illinois state Rep. Harry Osterman, (D-Chicago), said he hopes to see other states join Minnesota and Illinois in adopting the compact, and ultimately, ratification of the compact by the U.S. Congress. Wisconsin State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) echoed Ostermans call for uniform water use standards in the region.
Signed by the eight Great Lakes governors in 2005, the compact outlines binding regional water use standards and seeks to prevent diversions from the Lakes. Once endorsed by the legislatures of all the Great Lakes states, the Compact moves to the U.S. Congress for final ratification.
As the years go by and the pressure on the Great Lakes increases, the importance of the Great Lakes Compact will come to light, Osterman said. Our legacy is before us.
Watch this page for updated links to conference photos as they are added.
Formed in 1970, the Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly the Lake Michigan Federation) is the oldest independent citizens' organization in North America. Its mission is to conserve and restore the world's largest freshwater resource using policy, education and local efforts, ensuring a healthy Great Lakes and clean water for generations of people and wildlife. More about the Alliance for the Great Lakes is online at http://www.greatlakes.org.
Alliance for the Great Lakes