Despite its name, the National Ocean Policy is a long-overdue management plan for the Great Lakes and other major U.S. shorelines. The western Lake Erie region from Detroit to Cleveland -- which includes the most populated but fragile stretch of Great Lakes shoreline -- would especially benefit from an updated and effective policy.
The plan, which is currently subject to public comment, seeks to unite all levels of government in a common understanding of which shoreline policy would be best for national security, shipping, public health, agriculture, and the environment. The Great Lakes region has been a driving force behind similar policy efforts on issues such as acid rain, sewage control, and pesticide use.
Scientists use the lakes as living laboratories to study the effects of human interaction with waterways on manufacturing, farming, power plants, tourism, retailing, and housing. The Obama Administration's policy could help rationalize federal spending on issues common to the Great Lakes, such as the threats posed by invasive species.
Any policy that helps Americans value the Great Lakes and oceans must take a holistic approach that shuns fragmented special interests. The plan displays forward thinking in its call for more attention to climate change, ocean acidification, and what the melting of the Arctic region will mean to shipping and the global environment.
But the plan needs to do more to highlight the underrated relationship between air quality and water quality. Great Lakes scientific data show why that is important: Many fish in the lakes, even those as far removed from civilization as northern Michigan's Isle Royale, are too polluted to eat regularly because of mercury put into the air from various sources, especially coal-fired power plants.
Activity in southern Ohio can affect the livelihood of people along the Great Lakes shoreline. Census figures show that 53 percent of Americans live in coastal counties, and that percentage is expected to rise to 63 percent by 2020.
Western Lake Erie is an integral part of any discussion of North American shorelines, not only because of the region's myriad land uses but also because it is one of the nation's most productive areas for spawning fish.
It also is one of the first places scientists look to examine the interaction of land, water, and air. The Obama Administration should keep that in mind as it refines a vital national policy tool.
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