Last week, the HOW coalition submitted its comments on the $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to the Environmental Protection Agency website. The comment period closed after a set of summer meetings held throughout the region during the EPA’s listening tour.
“The EPA’s action plan will serve as a strong foundation for advancing Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for HOW. “Our comments have one goal: To make a good plan better, so that we can restore the Great Lakes now before the problems get worse and more costly.”
We were happy to see that the draft plan that the EPA released before the summer meetings adhered to four principles that we had been pushing since the GLRI debate began Washington. They include:
- Use of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (GLRC) to inform program funding.
- Supplement – not supplant – funding for existing Great Lakes programs.
- Ensure all State, local, Tribal, and non-governmental entities are involved in the new initiative in an open and transparent way.
- Improve coordination and collaboration among Federal agencies and between the Federal, State, local, Tribal, and Canadian Governments, colleges and universities, and non-governmental entities.
We also used this comment opportunity to suggest ways to make the plan stronger, including:
- Updating the nearly 5-year-old Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy to reflect current science, including impacts of climate change on the lakes.
- Including a decisive action plan on how to deal with the ongoing problem of aquatic invasive species introduced from ballast water of foreign ships.
- Bolstering interim milestones for activities such as wetlands restoration.
But more importantly, we urged the EPA to incorporate recommendations from a paper produced by a pre-eminent group of scientists on ways to avoid the tipping point of irreversible change. The paper recommended targeting restoration projects in critical areas; reducing region-wide threats, such as toxic pollution and nutrient-loading; and protecting healthy aquatic habitats from harm.
With the public comment period ending, the EPA’s plan will be further developed with public input. The GLRI has been approved by the US House and the appropriate US Senate Committee – it will be voted upon this fall by the US Senate and grants may be distributed as early as December 2009.