Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has joined with four of his fellow Rust Belt governors to call on the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders to endorse their agenda for revitalizing the Great Lakes. The call comes as the primary pack converges on Michigan for debates that begin Tuesday.
Wolf — along with Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and J.B Pritzker of Illinois — asked candidates to endorse a six-point plan to protect the Great Lakes for environmental, economic, and public health reasons.
Priorities include addressing Asian carp, PFAS chemical pollution, and repairing damaged locks. Pennsylvania’s northwestern border runs along the shore of Lake Erie.
Wolf, in a statement, said he’s pleased to join the effort “to focus particular attention on protecting these precious shared resources and the infrastructure and regulations that ensure safe drinking water to our residents.
“Pennsylvania’s mileage on Lake Erie is among the most beautiful and unique areas in the commonwealth, an ecologically significant watershed and home to diverse wildlife, and the economic engine of Great Lakes trade and tourism is critical to the economy of the entire state.”
According to the Michigan Advance, a sister site to the Capital-Star, Whitmer said preserving “our Great Lakes, protecting public health and cleaning up drinking water is a top priority for our region. The health of our families, our economy, and 51 million jobs depend on our immediate action.
“This agenda requires bold action. We must partner with the federal government to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect our freshwater, which is why I’m encouraging all 2020 presidential candidates from both parties to sign on to this agenda. The shared priorities of the Great Lakes region should be the shared priorities of all Americans,” Whitmer said, according to the Advance.
Wisconsin’s Evers, who currently serves as chair of Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, put the emphasis on safety.
“Too many children and families are exposed to unsafe drinking water. It’s unacceptable,” he said. “Everyone should be able to drink clean water from their tap, which is why I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in this effort to commit our nation’s leaders to strengthening our infrastructure, improving water quality, and protecting public health.”
The six areas addressed in the agenda are:
- Fixing water infrastructure by tripling the federal investment into the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds to address the region’s $179 billion backlog in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
- Increasing funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to $475 million per year to increase coastal resiliency, clean up toxic contamination, reduce runoff pollution, stop invasive species and restore wetlands and other habitats. Whitmer proposed this last month in a letter to federal lawmakers
- Backing new prevention measures at Brandon Road Lock and Dam and support strong ballast water rules for every Great Lakes vessel to help stop and control the introduction and spread of invasive species in the region like Asian carp. Several members of Michigan’s congressional delegation traveled to the dam in Joliet, Ill., last month to highlight issues.
- Committing to assisting states in meeting their goals of reducing nutrient pollution in the Western Lake Erie basin by 40 percent by 2025 through federal funding, resources and new technologies while continuing to monitor nutrient pollution in other Great Lakes. Harmful algal outbreaks threaten drinking water, economy, outdoor recreation, and fish and wildlife. Whitmer last month signed a measure aimed at tackling algal blooms in Lake Erie.
- Supporting federal funding for ports, harbors and marine infrastructure including the Soo Locks reconstruction project at Sault Ste. Marie. In addition to $52 million provided by the State of Michigan, $900 million is needed to modernize the Soo Locks and ensure they remain operational through reconstruction to prevent economic impacts.
- Pushing for increased federal action of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense to address PFAS contamination. Across the Great Lakesregion, states are tackling the challenge of addressing toxic contaminants like PFAS chemicals.
Susan J. Demas is editor of the Michigan Advance, a States Newsroom site.