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 Agreement. It could also give direction to federal agencies like EPA to move expeditiously to implement Agreement commitments such as action plans to clean up Lake Erie.
Perhaps it could state unequivocally that the federal government recognizes the Great Lakes and their submerged are subject to the public trust doctrine. That might back up assurances in the Great Lakes Compact against diversion and export of Great Lakes water. After all, President Obama’s predecessor called them a “national treasure.”