Great Lakes Stories That Deserve More Attention

I wanted to note two blog posts on important Great Lakes issues that aren’t getting nearly enough play.

The first is a post on the St. Lawrence Seaway by Jennifer Caddick, the talented director of Save the River in New York. On the day of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, she points out the many things the Seaway has brought us that aren’t cause for celebration: sea lamprey that swam through the canals, zebra and quagga mussels that were discharged in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels, air pollution from ships idling in ports, and the destruction of native wetlands by an industry that has demanded artificially uniform water levels.

The Seaway and the shipping industry has fought tooth and nail against changing any of these destructive practices. As Jennifer says,

“The Seaway agencies and shipping industry have systematically put themselves on the wrong side of environmental policy debates. For nearly 20 years, since the introduction of the zebra mussel, they resisted any rules to clean up ship ballast tanks to prevent further invasive species introductions…..Shippers and the Seaway are on record opposing the environmentally beneficial water levels plan (Plan B+) that our communities have been supporting for years. They’ve fought for (and unfortunately won) exemptions from federal rules to clean up ship smokestack emissions, making some of the Great Lakes ships among the dirtiest air polluters in the industry. And, the Seaway has unilaterally extended the shipping season on the St. Lawrence River, with no input from River communities, state or federal environmental and safety agencies, or elected officials. “

To add insult to injury, the Seaway now claims to be the most “environmentally responsible marine transportation systems in the world.” I wonder what they think an environmentally destructive system would look like?

The second post on Chicago’s sewage problems, from Jeff Alexander, sheds some light on an incredibly important funding priority for the Great Lakes that often gets lost in the budget debates. Jeff reports on a  Chicago Tribune story that reveals that Chicago has dumped over 19 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with stormwater into the Great Lakes since 2007…despite a $3 billion investment in a “Deep Tunnel” project that was supposed to fix the problem.  And Chicago is just one of many older cities (Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and others) that discharge untreated sewage to the lakes when it rains.

So what is Congress’s solution to the sewage problem?

Spend less  money in fixing the sewers. That’s right, the budget bill passed by the House cut funding to sewer repair and modernization by two-thirds – a whopping 67%. That cut will not only add billions of gallons of raw sewage to the lakes; it will also cost the region jobs and economic growth…22,000 jobs, according to a Brookings Institution report (pdf).

As a country, we’re finding out that there aren’t many budget cuts that are easy to make. But some aren’t just hard, they’re bad–and will cost us much more money in near future. This is one of those bad cuts.

Polluting the lakes AND costing 22,000 jobs…. that’s a cut that will keep on hurting for many years.


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