Episode 1021: The Great Lakes Agenda

The White House and the U.S. Senate have changed hands, and the federal government may move in a new — and in some ways dramatically different — direction. What does the future look like for the Great Lakes with Joe Biden in the Oval office? The economy, the environment, the climate and our health hang in the balance.

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The Great Lakes Agenda – Episode 1021

The White House and the U.S. Senate have changed hands, and the federal government may move in a new — and in some ways dramatically different — direction. What does the future look like for the Great Lakes with Joe Biden in the Oval office? The economy, the environment, the climate and our health hang in the balance.



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In the Month of January on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1021.

U.S. EPA Graphic

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Agenda: Investment

SEGMENT 1 | Washington D.C.; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Allendale, Michigan

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was formed in 2009 to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world: the Great Lakes. Since it was created, more than $2.7 billion has been spent on over 5,400 projects to clean up toxic hot spots, keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes, reduce the effects of toxic algae, rebuild natural wildlife habitats and educate the public on the importance of protecting the Great Lakes. 

The GLRI was funded under President Obama at $475 million. Then, the budget was reduced to $300 million and has remained at about the level ever since.  Funding for the initiative is expected to increase over the next 5 years, topping out at $475 million in 2026.

Read Great Lakes Now’s GLRI primer here.

Here are some other Great Lakes Now stories about GLRI projects:

Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Television.

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Agenda: Enforcement

SEGMENT 2 | Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis and Superior, Minnesota; Straits of Mackinac;

The EPA and other federal agencies are charged with safeguarding the environment, including the Great Lakes — and a new President could mean big changes. Under the Trump administration, EPA staff was cut by more than 20%, and enforcement actions dipped sharply. 

“You can bring less cases against polluters, so then you can have less compliance with environmental laws,” says Nicole Cantello, president of AFGE Local 704, which represents about 1,000 EPA workers in the Great Lakes region. “When there’s less compliance with environmental laws, more pollution goes out into the Great Lakes.”

Environmental advocates around the Great Lakes region hope the Biden administration will reverse those trends, and pursue environmental justice.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline — the subject of a years-long battle between the Canadian energy transport giant and environmental advocates — seemed destined to remain a state-level issue, but since Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the pipeline shut down by May 2021, and Enbridge’s announcement that they would defy Whitmer’s order, federal intervention is looking more likely.

Read Great Lakes Now’s primer on environmental enforcement here.

Here are some other Great Lakes Now stories involving environmental enforcement issues:

Photo of woman in mask getting a shot.

Photo courtesy of Videoblocks.

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Agenda: The COVID Economy

SEGMENT 1 | Chicago, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The Great Lakes regional economy has taken a big hit from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting business closures. How can the federal government respond? The first step to any economic recovery is getting the pandemic under control.

“Until we start working together,” says John Dickert of the Alliance for Regional Development, “to make sure that we keep the pandemic down while the vaccine is coming in, we’re not going to be able to rebuild this economy for quite some time.” 

Some say the best way to reinvigorate the economy is rebuilding our region’s aging infrastructure. 

Kelly O’Brien, executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, says the entire region’s infrastructure needs to get to a 21st-century level, and if Washington could make a difference.

“It would really move the needle here in the mega region in terms of being able to move people more seamlessly and that would help grow the economy,” O’Brien says.

Read Great Lakes Now’s COVID-19 and the economy primer here.

Here is some other Great Lakes Now work on the COVID-19’s impact on the region.

Agenda: The Shipping Economy

SEGMENT 1 | Westlake and Middleburg Heights, Ohio; Burns Harbor, Indiana

Like most industries, shipping and related operations on the Great Lakes experienced a challenging year in 2020. With the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the steel and manufacturing industries slowed down. That meant less demand for coal and iron ore and less need for those commodities to be shipped.

An economic recovery would help, but ask people involved in Great Lakes shipping what they really need from the federal government, and they’ll point to infrastructure. The new lock under construction in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is something the industry long wished for, but there’s also a need for help with lake ice.

“Hopefully we get another ice breaker built here in the Great Lakes to operate on the Great Lakes,” says Eric Pease of the Lake Carriers Association.“There’s been ice seasons, in particular 2013, 2014, and most recently 2019—where it’s had a huge impact on the shipping industry, the ports, the facilities, to make sure we can continue to move shipping here on the Great Lakes during the winter seasons.”

Read Great Lakes Now’s primer on shipping and COVID-19 here.

Here is other Great Lakes Now work on the shipping industry:

Photo by David Ruck/Great Lakes Outreach Media

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Agenda: Climate Change Response

SEGMENT 1 | Washington D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan

President Trump announced in 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, whereas President Biden pledged to rejoin it on the first day of his presidency. He’s also said repeatedly that he’ll make addressing climate change a top priority of his administration. 

Biden also has pledged to put the United States on a path to achieve net zero carbon emissions by t2050. The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, and according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.S. leadership is critical in the global effort to reduce the effects of climate change.

Any transition to clean energy should include more options for renewable power, says Samantha Willians, director of the Clean Energy Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Region. Those could include more solar and wind farms, cleaner cars including more electric vehicles, and more efficient homes and buildings.   

The No. 1 driver of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is the transportation sector. Environmental advocates say under the Biden administration, you’ll see a renewed push toward public transportation and new standards for fuel economy in vehicles. All of these efforts will impact the Great Lakes states.

Read Great Lakes Now’s climate change primer here.

Here is other Great Lakes Now work on climate change and energy:

Videos from Episode 1021

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