Critical coastline: The Great Lakes region deserves political attention

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The Great Lakes offer numerous challenges to the next president, and both President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney would endear themselves to voters in the crucial states of Pennsylvania and its lakeside neighbors by committing to more funding for Great Lakes restoration, and to a plan to keep out Asian carp.

The Great Lakes are a treasure because of their multiple uses and proximity to the heart of North America. Forty million people live in the Great Lakes basin, 30 million of them in the United States. In a world that faces acute water shortages as its population expands, the lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.

At a conference last week in Cleveland of Great Lakes policy experts, delegates called on the major-party nominees to talk more about the lakes during the campaign. U.S. State Department officials recently completed the first major update in 25 years of the landmark Great Lakes Quality Agreement with Canada; the pact works in tandem with America's Clean Water Act to promote better water quality.

Over the past quarter-century, the lakes -- especially parts of Lake Erie -- recovered rapidly before regressing. During his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama pledged $5 billion in new money for Great Lakes restoration. His administration began to keep that promise, but the commitment has declined with the bad economy in the past two years.

The Obama administration also has fought efforts to close temporarily Chicago-area locks that connect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, in an attempt to slow the advance of invasive Asian carp. Mr. Romney has hardly weighed in on any Great Lakes issue.

Climate change, beach bacteria, wetlands restoration, flood control, shipping, near-shore development, oil and gas drilling, pipeline safety, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics also belong on the list of urgent Great Lakes issues. Even though Pennsylvania has a short Lake Erie coastline, the region along the water supports 1.2 million jobs in this state.

President Obama and Mr. Romney need to pay attention and to place a much higher priority on protecting the Great Lakes.



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