Conference ends with a ‘presidential forum’ of one

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition planned to wrap up its 8th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland with a presidential candidate forum.

But the campaign of Mitt Romney declined to participate in the forum.

The campaign of President Obama sent former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner to the forum.

Andy Buchsbaum, co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said both campaigns were sent the same invitations, at the same time.

The coalition “has been and will continue to be nonpartisan,” Buchsbaum said. He said protecting the Great Lakes is a nonpartisan issue, and polls have shown that restoring the Great Lakes enjoys wide bipartisan support among voters.

Browner, who is an advisor to the Obama campaign, said the president has supported “historic” investment in the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The GLRI has provided more than $1 billion to clean up toxic hot spots, combat invasive species, reduce polluted runoff and restore fish and wildlife habitat.

“We need to look at the president’s record” (on Great Lakes issues) Browner said. “The president has a very strong record and it is fair to assume he will continue this commitment and build on it.”

Browner said the president’s administration: Enacted the first national mercury emission standard for coal-fired power plants, which will reduce mercury in Great Lakes fish and curtail greenhouse gas emissions; invested in efforts to keep the Asian carp invading the Great Lakes; and pushed for an expedited study of how best to keep Asian carp in the Mississippi River basin from spreading into the lakes.

If re-elected, Browner said the president would continue to advocate for the Great Lakes and programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

“The president believes climate change is real, I believe it’s real and I believe this is the most difficult issue of our generation,” Browner said.

She closed by noting how much progress the U.S. has made since 1972, when Congress approved the federal Clean Water Act.

The law was a response to widespread water pollution and, in particular, a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland.

This weekend, a rowing regatta will take place on the same stretch of the Cuyahoga that caught fire in 1969.

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