In this case, “it” is the Great Lakes. Few people, me included, realize that 28,834 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines crisscross the Great Lakes states. On the last day of the 8th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference when hundreds of advocates are energized and poised to get back to the work of restoring the lakes, we hear of a looming threat that lies just beneath the surface. Enbridge Energy owns the aging infrastructure that cuts across the lakes and the states, and to date, there have been more than 80 spills on record.
Today was the last day of the Great Lakes Conference. The last session I attended was ”Ohio and the Future of the Great Lakes Compact” with former Ohio Governor Bob Taft, Kristy Meyer from Ohio Environmental Council, Marc Smith from National Wildlife Federation, and Christopher Evans from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
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.
Hydrofracking, or fracking, is a technique used to free petroleum and natural gas from underground shale rock. But more and more, we are hearing about the problems fracking is wreaking on the environment and unsuspecting citizens. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection listed 85 hydraulic fracturing chemicals, e.g. benzene, petroleum distillates, many of which are known carcinogens. Fracking threatens private well water supplies – leaks and spills can happen and often do; and wastewater can be sent to sewage treatment facilities where it is eventually discharged back into waterways. And health experts are finding increased air pollution near drilling sites.
Admittedly, I sat in on this session not knowing what to expect mainly because I knew absolutely nothing about degraded benthos and plankton communities. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
It was a half hour session that could have easily gone on for another hour. At one point, Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute held up a tube of exfoliating cream, a ball jar filled with water and a black t-shirt to demonstrate exactly what type of plastic he was finding in his Great Lakes samples. After squeezing a small amount of cream into the jar of water, shaking it and filtering out the sudsy water through the black t-shirt, he was left with what seemed like a hundred or more polyethylene microbeads.
Twenty years ago, Amy Beyer began compiling an inventory of dams and road-stream crossings as part of her job with Resource Conservation Alliance in Traverse City, Mi.
Today she runs the organization, which has become a national leader in removing small dams and replacing culverts that disrupt stream flow and block fish passage.
“When I started doing this I wondered how we would ever get all of these projects done. Now we’re taking out these dams and replacing culverts like never before,” Beyer said during a session at the 8th annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland.
The emerging theme of the sessions I’ve been in so far is that funding the Great Lakes works. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing on-the-ground results and much of it is happening because people in the region are making their voices heard.
Asian carp is the Canary in the Coal Mine
…And it’s singing loudly. Environmental DNA of Asian carp has been found beyond the electric barriers in the Chicago Area Waterways and in Sandusky Bay in Ohio. The carp, and other high risk invaders, are knocking at the doors of the Great Lakes.
Jobs and the economy may dominate discussions about the 2012 election, but one conservation leader said Great Lakes residents should make Asian carp part of the political dialogue.
Erin McDonough, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said voters should ask the presidential candidates and politicians running for Congress what they would do to keep Asian carp from storming the Great Lakes.
“The role of of the NGO (nongovernmental) community and public is to make Asian carp a voting issue,” McDonough said Wednesday during the 8th annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland. “People are wondering why we can’t come up with a common sense solution to this problem.”
The federal government imported Asian carp to commercial fish farms in Arkansas in the 1960s to control algae. Asian carp escaped from those farms in the 1980s, invaded the Mississippi River system and have been migrating north ever since.
Asian carp are bearing down on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has called on the federal government to build physical barriers in the Chicago Area Waterway System that would separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin.
Studies have shown that separating Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion. McDonough said the cost of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes pales in comparison to the cost of damages the fish could inflict on Great Lakes ecosystem.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the best way to prevent an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes. The Army Corps present its study to Congress in 2014, but the Corps won’t recommend a solution. Congress will decide how best to address the problem, according to Corps officials.
Because the Army Corps takes its marching orders from the president and Congress, McDonough said voters who want the government to do more to prevent an Asian carp invasion should pressure the president, Congress and politicians seeking spots in Congress or the White House.
Here’s what you can do to help. Ask President Obama and Mitt Romney to sign the “Great Lakes Protection and Restoration Candidate Pledge.” The pledge asks the presidential candidates to support funding for Great Lakes restoration and back efforts to separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin Read the full pledge at: http://bit.ly/2012GLpledge
Guest post from Jennifer Doron, Director of Marketing & Communications, Ohio Environmental Council
The Farm Bill may be the biggest piece of legislation that most people know nothing about, including me. But after attending this session, I now know why to care.
It’s day one of the 8th Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland. I’m excited to get the word out about the many on-the-ground projects resulting from funding. First up on Tuesday, Sept. 11, Towards a Complete and Green Cleveland.
Cleveland Sees Green to Restore Lake Erie
Cleveland joins other cities around the Great Lakes in making sustainability a key issue. I’m hearing from three speakers this afternoon – all from various City of Cleveland offices – talk about plans for, and success stories of green infrastructure all around the metro area. Despite its history of hardships, Cleveland is a city that “thrives (speaks to the growing number of jobs as a result of implementing green infrastructure projects) and is resilient (responsive to climate change impacts).” The City is responding to the community’s demands and as a result helping to restore the health of Lake Erie.
Report: Upgrading water infrastructure would stimulate economy, create jobs and improve water quality
Upgrading America’s water infrastructure would create 1.9 million jobs and add $265 billion to the economy, according to a new report.
The report, “Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs and Greening the Environment,” was produced by American Rivers, Green For All and the Economic Policy Institute,
It explored the economic benefits of investing $188.4 billion in water infrastructure. That’s the how much it would cost to properly manage stormwater to preserve water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
An investment of that magnitude would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending, according to the report.
Investing in stormwater management programs would also clean up the nation’s waters.
Every year, 860 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage spills into our waterways – enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with an inch of sewage. Cities discharge about 40 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage is discharged into the Great Lakes annually. Yuck.
The report is further proof that investing in green infrastructure would create much-needed jobs, stimulate the economy and improve water quality.
American Rivers, Green For All, and the Economic Policy Institute have set up a petition where individuals can show their support for improving the nation’s water infrastructure.
If the groups get 25,000 signatures, White House staff will review the report, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts and issue an official response.
You can read the report here.
You can also sign the petition.
With winter approaching, it’s time to do a little fall cleaning. Here’s an update of recent activities involving members of the HOW Coalition and new studies that coalition members will find interesting.
ITEM I: If you weren’t able to make it to the 2011 Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Detroit you can check out much of what went down by visiting http://conference.healthylakes.org/.
On the Web site you’ll find blog posts from the conference, presentations and photos. Sadly, you won’t find are reports on the numerous extracurricular activities. Conference participants checked out some of Detroit’s fines restaurants and casinos. A few of the sports fans in our ranks attended the Detroit Tigers playoff against the Texas Rangers; others took in a Detroit Red Wings game.
Who said conferences were dull? Not in the Motor City.
The 2012 conference, in Cleveland, also promises to be a dandy.
ITEM II: A new study conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation concluded that natural resources programs and outdoor activities generate a whopping $1.06 TRILLION annually in economic activity.
This is a terrific report with compelling data that conservation groups can use to demonstrate the value of natural resources, recreation programs and historic preservation activities.
The study found that outdoor recreation activities, natural resources conservation and historic preservation programs in the United States employ 8.4 million people, generate $100 billion annually in local, state and federal tax revenue.
It also found that outdoor recreation sales (gear and trips combined) of $325 billion per year are greater than annual returns from pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing ($162 billion), legal services ($253 billion), and power generation and supply ($283 billion).
The report is national in scope but it has much information that is relevant to the Great Lakes region. It can be found here: http://bit.ly/vYZW2x.
ITEM III: The loss of wetlands in the U.S. has slowed in recent years, according to a new Fish and Wildlife Service report.
The report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Contiguous United States 2004-2009,” found that the nation had a net loss of 62,300 acres of wetlands between 2004 and 2009.
There are now just over 110 million acres in the continental United States. The report, along with the press release and science behind the report, can be found here:http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/StatusAndTrends2009/
What do most of the 37 Great Lakes Areas of Concern have in common? A legacy of toxic chemicals, which are extremely expensive to cleanup. Today at the HOW Conference, we heard from policy professionals about opportunities to use “Green Chemistry” to make the products we use in our daily lives safer for people and the environment. Read the rest of this entry »
What comes to mind when you think of Detroit? Sports teams? Auto Companies? Eminem? Not many people think of restoring coastal wetlands and creating new habitat for wildlife – but that’s exactly what is happening at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, only a few miles from downtown Detroit. Read the rest of this entry »
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a prominent role in Great Lakes Restoration. Not only is NOAA responsible for administering funding under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to implemenent quality restoration projects, but the agency also provides technical staff, fosters partnerships, and makes efforts to engage the local community. Read the rest of this entry »
As Mike Murray described during the panel session “Offshore Wind: Balancing efficiency and accountability,” we have world-class winds in the Great Lakes. Yet, we only have one active plan for Great Lakes wind and currently no offshore wind production. Why is that? Well, we have governing questions, conservation questions and more.
The proposed solutions? The idea described by presenter Mike Klepinger is to create the Inland Seas Energy Alliance (ISEA)–a new regulatory environment. Why? To create certainty, which is critical to responsibly develop large scale offshore wind.
The ISEA would set production goals, prepare guidelines for site assessment and provide a public venue for federal agencies to engage in what is primarily a state leasing decision. The agency is still a proposal and welcomes input.
Klepinger emphasized that the Great Lakes needs an offshore energy management authority, similar to the St. Lawrence Seaway but with a triple bottom line mandate (and without the invasive species). Regional policymakers need some quality time to decide on the best and worst places to take advantage of the Great Lakes winds.
As Victoria Pebbles showed, mapping of offshore wind at 90 meters shows it being very good throughout the lakes. You want energy to be where people and load is. Unlike in the plains areas of the region, in the Great Lakes there are people nearby. Unlike coal, which is mined far from most of it users, offshore wind in the Great Lakes would be used locally.
Most striking to is the extent of the environmental benefits. There is no NOx or Sox, no carbon pollution, no particulates, no mercury and no water used during the generation of offshore wind.
Pebbles is working with the eight Great Lakes governors—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Illinois Gov. Pat Quin–to form consensus through a Memorandum of Understanding to responsibly site and develop offshore wind across the basin.
Representative Robyn Gabel passed the “Illinois Offshore Wind Energy Act.” It was exciting to hear her describe the work done by Citizens for a Greener Evanston, a community group that deserves much of the credit for bringing the bill to pass and their work developing Climate Action Plan for Evanston and working to bring offshore wind to their area.
Emily Green explained that one of the Sierra Club’s priorities in Climate change, and work hard towards retiring existing coal plants and stopping new plants from being built. So, the question Emily asks is “what comes behind that?” and “how do we get alternative energy to scale?”
In addition to the environmental benefits, she explained there are social benefits with the potential for local manufacturing and supply chains. Meanwhile, barriers include the cost, regulatory uncertainty and the need for public and political support. The path forward includes ensuring that the first projects are sited well to avoid backlash and are on the path of smart sitting of offshore wind from the start.
During the Q&A, an attendee who sails on the Great Lakes reminded everyone of the Brookings Institute study on how much money comes into the region thanks to recreation and is concerned that boaters may not go to the communities with offshore wind. Though passionate about stopping coal and a supporter of offshore wind, she knows how important public perception is. Emily Green of the Sierra Club, who is also a boater, explained that the turbines will be very far out on the lake and that in some places there have even been moorings to tie boats alongside and fish.
Mark Van Putten, founder of Conservation Strategy LCC and a former President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, warned of the dangers of streamlining authority, and pointed out that some of the regulatory uncertainty is valid. He emphasized that we need to make sure that we do not endorse top down steam-rolled projects, but allow for very messy processes that involve public input.
You can learn more about the sessions by taking a look at the presenters’ slideshows online.
Nearly 500 Great Lakes Week participants gathered at the Detroit Institute of Arts Wednesday evening to relax after a long day of field trips and presentations. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2008, the states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes celebrated a monumental victory by passing the Great Lakes Compact, which bans diversions of Great Lakes water outside of the region. Today, a number of experts on the Great Lakes Compact discussed the regional efforts to ensure states around the Great Lakes are doing their part to meet the promise of that historic agreement.
The Compact gets a lot of attention for its ban on diversions. Less well known are its provisions requiring states and provinces to limit water withdrawals within the Great Lakes basin and to enhance water conservation and efficiency. But as River Network Executive Director Todd Ambs put it during the session, the long term threat to the health of lakes may lie more with those in-basin withdrawal proposals than with diversions outside the basin.
We heard from National Wildlife Federation attorney Sara Gosman about state efforts to fulfill their responsibilities under the Compact. Gosman recently released a report she authored in August on the subject. Today she focused on the experience of Ohio and New York. Over the summer, the Ohio legislature passed a notoriously bad bill, which would have allowed withdrawals from Lake Erie of up to 5 million gallons per day, well in excess of thresholds required by the Compact. Fortunately, the spirit of working together as a region that developed through the years of negotiating the Great Lakes Compact paid off. After hearing from a number of other elected officials, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich acted to veto the misguided legislation. In contrast, Gosman praised legislation passed this year by New York, which includes some of the most protective withdrawal standards in the region.
The country’s approach to stopping polluted runoff isn’t working. That was the basic conclusion of a 2008 National Research Council report commissioned by EPA. Today at the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Restoration Conference, we heard from a number of experts about what’s being done to address the problem.
Katie Rousseau from American Rivers explained that EPA is currently working on new rules for stormwater management standards, which are expected to be released in draft form on December 15, 2011. Great Lakes advocates and others will have until February 2012 to submit comments on the proposal, and EPA is expected to finalize the rule in November 2012.
Other panelists like Karen Hobbs from the National Resources Defense Council and Hal Sprague from the Center for Neighborhood Technology gave participants confidence that not only are green infrastructure techniques and protective stormwater regulations possible, they’re actually being implemented in cities across the country!
Finally, Max Muller from Environment Illinois reminded us that the timeline for EPA’s stormwater rulemaking closely tracks the 2012 Presidential election. Hence, advocates will need to make their voices heard to encourage EPA to move forward with the strongest rule possible. Here’s what we can do:
1) Sign-on to a stormwater rulemaking platform that was developed by Clean Water for Healthy Communities by emailing Katie Rousseau: firstname.lastname@example.org
2) Call your Member of Congress and encourage them to defend a strong EPA stormwater rule and oppose any rollbacks
3) Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and mention how your Member of Congress can stand up for clean water by supporting a strong EPA stormwater rule