One More Gift to the Great Lakes?

Although the Presidential election is over, the incumbent remains in power for another 54 days. It’s not much time, but it’s enough for President Obama to take further actions to protect the Great Lakes. He’s already done a lot. Most importantly, his Administration has injected approximately $2 billion in new federal funding into Great Lakes restoration. So what could he do in a mere 54 days?  Most ideas that come to mind seem impractical, like signing an executive order to restore Lake Erie like the one he signed in 2009 to restore Chesapeake Bay.  That order seems to be producing results, after decades of failure, although it’s not a magic wand. Another probably impractical idea is to create marine sanctuaries in the Great Lakes, as advocates have proposed in four different areas.  But the boundaries are not clearly drawn and community support has not fully crystallized and presidential authority is unclear. Perhaps all he can do now is reaffirm US policy on the Great Lakes in such language that adherents of any political philosophy would have trouble opposing. It is already US policy (Title 33, Chapter 26, Subchapter 1268, US. Code), “that the United States should seek to attain the goals embodied in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978, as amended by the Water Quality Agreement of 1987 and any other agreements and amendments” and that “the Environmental Protection Agency should take the lead in the effort to meet those goals, working with other Federal agencies and State and local authorities.” A presidential executive order could update that policy to refer to the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality...

Burying the Lead

“Burying the lead” is a journalist’s mistake.  It’s when the most important part of a story isn’t in,  or close to the lead paragraph. A case in point is this week’s otherwise first-rate Detroit Free Press article about the Nestle attempt to increase its Mecosta County groundwater withdrawal by 167%.  The company bottles the virtually free water and sells it at a staggering price for a staggering profit. Before a major new or increased withdrawal is fully evaluated, it must be considered by what its supporters proudly call an innovative assessment tool.  The next several paragraphs are the ingredients of a dynamic lead. “When Nestlé ran the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool” last December, “they didn’t pass,” said Jim Milne, the shorelines unit chief in the DEQ’s Water Resources Division. But as state regulations allow, the company then requested a site-specific review by DEQ staff…[which] led the DEQ to determine the increased pumping “is not likely to cause an adverse resource impact,” in January… It’s not unprecedented for DEQ staff to override the findings of the agency’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool. From July 2015 to July of this year, the DEQ authorized 123 withdrawal requests rejected by the computerized modeling after site-specific reviews, Milne said. So the buried story is: the water withdrawal assessment tool is world class…except when it might be used to block a withdrawal that someone really wants and is determined to get. As for a state that gives the public’s water to a private party for mammoth profit — that’s a subject for another...

Dream On

“Both candidates had serious flaws.” Right — and the Great Lakes and your birdbath both have water. What kind of comparison is that? I’m hearing that top line from some friends.  They don’t quite get it. Leaving aside questions of character, let’s look at policy.  What a concept. Only one candidate called for eliminating EPA, cancelling climate change commitments, freeing oil and gas development from those pesky environmental rules and shutting down renewable energy development. And don’t tell me that a Supreme Court likely tilted 7-2 in support within four years will constrain that agenda, or that a compliant Congress will slow it. Hope is important, but it should not be based on...