Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When Invasive Species Are Smiling

Austerity comes to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Nonprofit groups across the eight-state region had hoped for a major influx of money to improve wildlife habitat, dredge toxic sediments left by industrial sources, fix beach pollution and upgrade crumbling sewer systems, as President Barack Obama promised during his campaign.

Obama proposed and Congress approved $475 million to kick-start the initiative last year, providing funding for hundreds of projects and creating jobs, said Jeff Skelding, director of the multistate Healing Our Waters Coalition.

But Congress has yet to approve the amount Obama requested for the 2011 fiscal year, $300 million, to continue the program and the administration has said it plans further cuts for 2012. In a column in Sunday’s New York Times, Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, specifically named the Great Lakes Restoration as one of three programs the president will cut in 2012. That could stall the work now under way, directors of several environmental groups said.

When this initiative was announced last year, it was intended to be a five-year, $2.2 billion dollar plan...

Among the goals it seeks by 2014: finishing work at five toxic hot spots that have languished on cleanup lists for two decades; a 40 percent reduction in the rate at which invasive species are discovered in the lakes; measurable decreases in phosphorus runoff; and protection of nearly 100,000 wetland acres.

It also will help save species such as the lake sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that can reach 8 feet long and 200 pounds but is endangered because of overharvesting and habitat degradation. The plan promises to provide 25,000 young sturgeon for stocking programs.

Combined with enforcement of environmental rules and new ones where needed, officials said the plan would help make Great Lakes fish safe to eat, their waters suitable for drinking and swimming, and their native plants and animals thriving.

... and according to the Brookings Institution via the Great Lakes Commission, the payoff would have been huge.

The Brookings Institution has estimated that implementing the Great Lakes restoration strategy in full will generate $50 billion in long-term benefits. A coalition of more than 30 metropolitan Chambers of Commerce in the region has highlighted Great Lakes restoration as a critical component of a larger agenda for creating jobs and revitalizing our regional economy. Areas where cleanups have been completed are planning important waterfront redevelopment projects. Cleaning up contaminated sediments, alone, is projected to increase coastal property values by $12 billion to $19 billion. Boating, fishing, hunting and wildlife watching in the Great Lakes region generate over $50 billion in economic activity annually and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. Abundant freshwater, recreational amenities and other benefits from the Great Lakes will be vital for attracting new industries and young workers in the future.

$2 billion for a potential $50 billion. That's the thing about austerity. You don't fix your problems, you don't invest in your product, and eventually you just lose it all. But hey, maybe we can let the Pubs gut the EPA as well, and go back to lighting the rivers on fire. Since we are being all bipartisan-y and stuff.

Hopes are that some funding will continue. With Republican governors in the Midwest running around threatening deregulation on environmental protections in the name of promoting "business" (yeah, we are looking at you, Governor Walker), chances are we will face new threats of pollution in the coming years. Those invasive species will just have to fend for themselves at that point.

According to that bleeding-heart environmental champion Fred Upton's website, the Great Lakes Compact does cover all the areas mentioned above. And that is the law now, thanks to George Bush. Perhaps we could get the Canadians to enforce it...