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Published: 7/9/2012

COMMENTARY

The Great Lakes campaign

If they want to win votes in Ohio, Michigan, and other Great Lakes states, President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, must show a greater commitment to restoring the lakes and addressing major threats to them, from Asian carp to climate change.

Three out of four Ohioans want more money spent on Great Lakes cleanup, especially along Lake Erie, according to a new poll commissioned by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, an alliance of environmental, conservation, recreational, and cultural groups. Voters of both parties want better barriers to repel destructive Asian carp, which threaten to wipe out the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery.

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans among the 804 likely voters polled, and almost 80 percent of Ohio Democrats, agreed on the importance of restoring the lakes. Nine out of 10 voters said they are concerned about what will happen to native fish populations if Asian carp establish themselves in Lake Erie. The pollsters said Ohioans are rarely so united across the political spectrum.

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The poll did not ask about climate change, but legislation that would regulate carbon, smog, mercury, and other forms of air pollution is before Congress. Climate change is also an issue in the first major revision in 25 years of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which the United States and Canada plan to complete this summer.

Rick Unger, the president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, says the candidates cannot discuss jobs and the economy without addressing the problems of Lake Erie, because his industry and others depend on a clean lake.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition implores the candidates to pledge more funding for lakes restoration and to support a hydrological separation of the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River watersheds. Many scientists say the latter initiative is the only certain antidote to the Asian carp plague.

As President, Mr. Obama has increased restoration funding for the Great Lakes. But he has fallen behind on his 2008 campaign pledge to provide at least $5 billion in new cleanup money before he leaves office. An inventory generated by the George W. Bush administration documented more than $20 billion in lakes restoration needs.

Mr. Obama got $500 million in new money from Congress soon after he took office. But funding for his restoration initiative has hovered at around $300 million a year since then.

His administration has committed more than $100 million toward an Asian carp solution, much of it for electrical barriers near Chicago. Yet it also went to the Supreme Court on behalf of Chicago-area politicians, Illinois officials, and shipping interests to defeat a plan that Ohio, Michigan, and other Great Lakes states pushed to stop Asian carp. That proposal would have temporarily idled Chicago-area locks while the need for a hydrological separation was investigated.

Mr. Romney has been largely silent on major Great Lakes issues. That isn't acceptable. Both he and Mr. Obama need to make clearer where they stand on preserving the lakes.



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