Economic turbulence tends to inspire regionalism among Congressmen and those who lobby them. The Great Lakes has received an infusion of federal money to invest in restoration and it appears that this is causing some envy among other ecosystem restoration projects, but it shouldn’t because we intend to fight not just for the Great Lakes but also for the restoration of all of America’s Great Waters.
Less than a year ago, National Wildlife Federation CEO Larry Schweiger challenged a room full of advocates for this nation’s endangered waters to think beyond their own restoration efforts. “Instead of focusing on our own individual problems, we should make our problems bigger. These are problems that need a collective responsibility. We need a new vision for addressing these great waters.”
That meeting birthed the Great Waters Coalition that includes restoration efforts for the Great lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, the Florida Everglades, the Coasts of Maine and Louisiana, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, San Francisco and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The combination of these restoration projects should make us a national priority and help us to secure long-term sustainable funding for all of our projects. We have a sympathetic White House and an eager Congress, but we are also wallowing in economic malaise. Coming together is the best thing we can do right now. “This is all connected,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) at the launch of Great Waters in December, “it can’t just be about my area and my district it has to be about the region – about the country.”
The Great Lakes are home to eight politically volatile states – now add the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Mississippi River states the Western and Southern coastal states (that is more than 27 states) and now we have a much bigger voice on the Hill. “That is a lot of voters and a huge caucus in Congress,” Bill Leary, a former White House Council on Environmental Quality staffer, told an audience of conservationists.
We need to banish the days of regional wars that pit restoration projects against one another in an attempt to eek out appropriations from Congress. Malia Hale, who directs water restoration campaigns for NWF described the process as “a competition between the have not’s and the have not’s.
It is important to remember that the Great Lakes are not a closed system but are connected to many other parts of the country. So, lets go to Congress with an all for one and one for all mentality. Then Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) will see money in the legislation for the Chesapeake Bay, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will see dollars for San Francisco Bay and so on and so on. This is the kind of coalition and legislative package that will get Members attention and gain significant traction.