With six of the eight Great Lakes states being hotly contested battlegrounds, this election year the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes is being elevated to a major campaign issue. Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama today proposed a major plan to jump-start the process. The Obama-Biden Great Lakes Restoration Plan calls for $5 billion over a 10-year period to go toward sewage treatment improvements, rehabilitation of toxic sites and wetlands restoration. Obama also calls for the creation of a Great Lakes czar to oversee funding and keep restoration efforts on track.
Obama has already expressed support for the Great Lakes Compacts and a separate $26 billion Great Lakes restoration plan that has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. His campaign stressed that this proposal is in no way a replacement for that legislation.
“We need to recognize this as a great national treasure that needs to be protected,” said Heather Zichal, energy and environment policy director for the Obama campaign. ”It’s the largest freshwater system on the planet, and therefore we need to put the power of the federal government behind restoration.”
In a conference call with reporters, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar claimed that Obama has been a consistent advocate for the Great Lakes.
“As a state senator, he was a leader in helping to clean Lake Michigan and, in the Senate, he has been a key leader in the Great Lakes compact,” she said.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow cited yearly cuts to Great Lakes programs under the Bush administration and hit a familiar theme by connecting them to Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. McCain has pledged to support Great Lakes restoration but has yet to commit to funding levels for any legislation.
“It’s very reassuring to us in Michigan to have a Great Lakes senator running for president of the United States,” said Stabenow.
That in turn must be reassuring to Obama who would like very much to win Michigan’s 17 electoral votes. The candidate can only hope the same holds true in the other Great Lakes states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.