May 22, 2003
Great Lakes restoration programs criticized
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — More than 100 federal and state programs aimed at restoring the Great Lakes lack proper coordination, which should have been provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a government report released Wednesday.
Between 1992 and 2001, the federal government spent about $1.8 billion to restore and protect the lakes, the world’s largest freshwater system, according to the study by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress. The Army Corps of Engineers spent an additional $358 million, while adjacent states spent $956 million during the period.
The more than $3 billion in spending has not been as effective as it might have been because “there is no one organization that is coordinating restoration efforts,” the GAO said.
Three decades after the United States and Canada agreed to work together to protect the lakes, “polluted beaches are frequently closed to swimmers, fish are unsafe to eat for high-risk individuals and raw sewage is still being dumped into the lakes,” the study said.
While generally agreeing with the report, the EPA did not address its specific recommendations, which it said it would respond to later.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of the lawmakers who requested the study, said he would introduce legislation today to implement a key recommendation.
His bill would amend federal pollution laws to require the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office to develop a system for monitoring water quality and other environmental conditions in the lakes.
“Without comprehensive, consistent data ... we have no idea whether our efforts are working,” he said.
Ohio Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, Steven LaTourette, R-Madison and a handful of other lawmakers joined in requesting the study.
The Great Lakes National Program Office, which is part of the EPA, was supposed to coordinate restoration under 1987 amendments to the Clean Air Act, the report said. The study said the office “has not fully exercised this authority because it has not entered into agreements with other agency organizations regarding their Great Lakes activities.”
The report urges the EPA to ensure that the office fulfills its coordination responsibilities. It recommends the EPA develop a monitoring system to measure progress in restoring the lakes.
In 1982, the United States and Canada amended their Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to call for the development of a monitoring system.
“Implementation of this provision has not progressed to the point that overall restoration progress can be measured or determined based on quantitative information,” the report said.