U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   08/25/2003
 
Elaine Marsh
Lake Erie Director
Great Lakes United
Peninsula, OH

Water Quality in the Great Lakes.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak with you this morning about my experiences working on two collaborative efforts. I am Elaine Marsh, Project Director of Ohio Greenways. For the past six years, I have served as Lake Erie Director on the Board of Trustees for Great Lakes United. I would like to express my gratitude to Senator Voinovich for holding these hearings, for his consistent efforts on behalf of the Great Lakes and for his support a Great Lakes Restoration Plan.

Great Lakes United is an international coalition of individuals and over 170 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens from the eight Great Lakes states, two Canadian provinces and tribal territories within the Great Lakes region. Our main constituents are environmental organizations like National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental, the Kent Environmental Council and EcoCity Cleveland; conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited; and labor groups and civic organizations like United Auto Workers and the Great Lakes Chapter of the League of Women Voters. We work at the local, regional and international level on projects, programs and policies to protect and restore the Great Lakes - St Lawrence River ecosystem.

To that end, we developed A Citizens' Action Agenda for Restoring the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Ecosystem. Two years ago, we at Great Lakes United became convinced that expanded federal action to protect the Great Lakes might be a real possibility. During the 2001 annual spring get-togethers organized

separately by the Northeast-Midwest Institute and the Great Lakes Commission, we had occasion to talk to members of Congress and their staff. Those conversations suggested that there was growing frustration with the existing approach of dealing with Great Lakes issues on a project-by-project basis within a convoluted and uncoordinated framework.

We concluded from those meetings that the region needed a comprehensive approach that could be broadly supported by the states and their publics. We at Great Lakes United thought that both state and federal Great Lakes officials might be considering comprehensive Great Lakes action. We thought it was imperative that the Great Lakes public be in on the ground floor of any new protection effort. We also thought it would be ideal for the public to approach restoration both collectively and comprehensively, and to address any new federal effort with as unified a voice as possible.

For the next eighteen months, we worked on what evolved into the Great Lakes Green Book that you have before you. Our first objective was to involve every major organization in the Great Lakes basin, on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. We included all interest parties, members and non-members alike. We wanted to construct an agenda that addressed all of the major issue areas impacting the Great Lakes ecosystem. We wanted to include both project-oriented and policy-type solutions. Finally, we wanted to make sure that the resulting document was not just the work of Great Lakes "insiders," but a representative statement by all those with an interest in regional environmental issues.

We started by dividing the problems besetting the Great Lakes ecosystem into seven general restoration issue areas:

1. Toxic Clean Up

2. Clean Production

3. Green Energy

4. Sustaining and Restoring Water Quantities and Flows

5. Protecting and Restoring Species

6. Protecting and Restoring Habitat

7. Water and Air Quality Standards

Next, we established self-selected working groups to draft plans for each of these areas. Each of the seven draft plans was circulated to all organizations and individuals interested in the relevant issue area. After rewrites based on resulting comments, the whole plan, including all seven issue areas and an introduction, was sent out by surface as well as electronic mail to general announcement lists and all members of the public we thought might be interested. Each section was rewritten again based on the resulting comment, and the whole plan was sent out one last time to the Great Lakes community for final comment. Great Lakes United released the Citizens' Action Agenda for Restoring the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Ecosystem this past June at our annual meeting. I have brought a couple copies of the agenda in its entirety.

The Green Book you have before you is the executive summary of the agenda. The Green Book begins with a statement of our purpose and a statement of the critical condition of the Great Lakes. Next, each of the seven sections begins with a brief discussion of the problem and a list of recommended actions, including timetables. For example, in the Toxic Cleanup section, the first category of actions, very relevant to today's proceedings, is “Provide adequate funding for cleanup of Areas of Concern.” Several action items relating to AOC's follow. Other categories in this section are Building and Engage Healthy Communities with actions related to public education on health issues, Coordinating Toxic Cleanup Efforts, Treating Contaminants, and Contaminated Land and Groundwater Sites. Likewise, the six remaining issue areas are divided categories and related actions. If you would like, I could walk you through particular sections.

Senator, I know that you are interested in hearing about how collaborative efforts might support the pending legislation on Great Lakes restoration. I would like to give another example of my experiences here in Ohio. As Project Director of Ohio Greenways, I worked with the Ohio Conservation and Environmental Forum to inform the legislative process and support the Clean Ohio Fund. The $400 million bound fund was initiated in 2000 by Governor Taft to finance brownfield revitalization, natural resource projects, and farmland preservation projects. Coordinated by the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, more than thirty organizations put their resources and expertise together and, over a twelve-month period, drafted the “Blueprint for the Clean Ohio Fund.” Several copies are circulating. This document clearly stated our priorities for funding projects, identified desired administrative procedures, and defined criteria both for the selection and exclusion of projects. The document was released to the media and distributed to the legislature. It was the central focus of our educational efforts with the public. It served as point and counter-point to the treatises produced by members of the administration and other interested parities.

I believe that I can unequivocally state that Blueprint had a profound and positive effect on the outcome of the Clean Ohio Fund. It is a possible approach for a Great Lakes Restoration Plan.

I would like to conclude by examining the remarkable capacity of the Great Lakes public as demonstrated by the Citizens' Action Agenda. It is comprehensive in scope and specific in recommendations. The power of the document and its broad support is derived from the inclusive process used in its production. Likewise, we think extensive public involvement in any comprehensive restoration effort will greatly strengthen that effort. The production of the Green Book clearly demonstrates that the Great Lake public has the capacity to play a constructive role in any comprehensive restoration effort. We encourage you to engage the public, early and often, and we offer our assistance in that effort. And, while we are not prepared to discuss priorities at this time, using the Green Book as a basis, we could help the basin public come to consensus in prioritizing Great Lake restoration projects as they might relate to legislated funding.

We laud you for your efforts on behalf of our Great Lakes, and we thank you for the opportunity to talk about our Citizen's Agenda.

Elaine Marsh
Project Director
2179 Everett Rd.
Peninsula, OH 44264
(330)657-2055

(330)657-2198 FAX

www.ohiogreenways.org