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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2010

2010 mired in oil slicks, immobile politicians

So 2010 comes to an end this week.

Good riddance.

We've come no closer to getting meaningful climate legislation through Congress, which has huge ramifications for the Great Lakes region -- particularly the shallow, ecologically fragile western end of Lake Erie.

Major industries don't like being held hostage by uncertainty. A warmer planet, according to leading scientists and policy analysts, can mean lower lake levels, higher taxes, declines in property values; less shipping, agricultural, fishing and boating; more smog, and more mosquito-borne illnesses. The long-term costs of inaction can be great. Even with a solid consensus among scientists and with military leaders declaring climate change a threat to national security, the buck got passed.

We were humiliated in the world theater by a London-based multinational corporation. BP's historic Gulf of Mexico oil spill brought a new focus to our nation's shorelines, including the Great Lakes. So did former BP chief executive Tony Hayward, with his testimony that irked several members of Congress.

In this area, we had a fairly rapid and effective response to the burst of an Enbridge oil pipeline in southern Michigan, all things considered. But even the federal officials who mobilized the response admit the damage will take years to undo.

Rhetoric about the highly destructive Asian carp was tossed around like salad. In September, Ohio's outgoing Gov. Ted Strickland reminded the Obama Administration that Asian carp could devastate the region more than oil. But all that 2010 brought was more molasses-like meetings, task-force recommendations, and costly litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has bypassed Toledo and Port Clinton -- two of the cities with the most to lose -- with its road show that began Dec. 15 in Chicago and ends Feb. 10 in Vicksburg, Miss. The closest the Corps is coming to western Lake Erie, the region's most productive spawning grounds, for its series of public meetings is Cleveland on Jan. 13 and Ann Arbor on Feb. 3.

On Dec. 17, U.S. Senate Democrats announced future funding for President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is in danger. The initiative, which aims to jump-start restoration, was funded at $475 million in 2009. The House had approved $322 million through Sept. 30, while the Senate proposal was for only $300 million.

Jeff Skelding, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition campaign director, said the region "cannot let this be the final word."

The Brookings Institution claims the region reaps a $2 payback in economic benefit for every dollar invested in Great Lakes restoration. Translation: Another missed opportunity.

We saw officials scrambling for answers to explain our Summer of Algae. Ohio's was triggered by the unprecedented stench and fouling of Grand Lake St. Marys, the state's largest inland lake. The uproar finally -- after 15 years -- brought more focus to the toxic algae that has bloomed almost annually since 1995 in western Lake Erie.

State officials admitted the fledgling program was a work in progress, Now, funding to build on it is anything but certain, even before Governor-elect John Kasich takes office next month.

And what about proactively identifying pollutants such as phosphorus that feed algae? Heidelberg University's National Center for Water Quality Research, one of the Midwest's best, was left scrounging for grants.

How will things evolve, even if the money's tight?

Sandusky County Administrator Warren Brown wasn't exactly thrilled by the response he got last week from Mr. Kasich's transition guru, Wayne Struble, to a request for a one-on-one briefing about the well-documented Clyde childhood cancer cluster that has taken the life of Mr. Brown's daughter, Alexa, and others.

According to an e-mail exchange Mr. Brown shared with reporters, Mr. Struble came off somewhere between vague and standoffish.

Here's to better times.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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