Obama Lakes Plan Could Help Woo Michigan
By Kari Lydersen
CHICAGO -- Michigan is one watery swing state, and the Obama campaign is likely hoping his proposal Tuesday for a $5 billion Great Lakes restoration program will help some votes flow his way there and in Ohio.
Michigan borders four Great Lakes and counts on them for commercial and sport fishing, tourism and shipping. Dependence on and affection for the Great Lakes runs high there across party lines, from red-leaning, independent-minded duck hunters to blue-hued environmentalist activists. Ohio sits on Lake Erie, which -- like the other lakes -- is plagued by pollution and invasive foreign species. Great Lakes states Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota are considered blue-leaning, but still could be in play come November.
"We're not in the business of handicapping elections, but the fact he put out a concrete proposal speaks volumes about the importance this region has economically and electorally," said Jordan Lubetkin, spokesman for the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, which is made up of environmental and outdoors groups.
Because support for Great Lakes protection and restoration bills in Congress has usually been unanimous, McCain and Obama have similar voting records. Obama's campaign calls him "a long-time advocate for the restoration of the Great Lakes" going back to his state Senate days.
An Obama campaign release yesterday chided McCain for voting against funding for the Asian carp barrier, a controversial and problem-plagued electric barrier meant to keep the voracious invasive fish out of Lake Michigan.
State Republican Party chairmen from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin on Tuesday issued a response to Obama's plan saying, "John McCain has made his commitment to supporting the Great Lake Compact abundantly clear. He has a long record of working in a bipartisan manner, which is exactly what is needed to bring about real reform and solutions to challenges that we need to address now. Barack Obama's solution, like we've seen before, throws taxpayer money at the problem instead of reaching across party lines and working toward a comprehensive solution."
The Great Lakes Compact, which was signed by all Great Lakes governors and passed the Senate this summer, would limit almost all water diversions outside the Great Lakes basin but does not address lakes restoration.
Obama's plan calls for full implementation of the Compact along with $5 billion in new federal funds for sewage repairs, toxic cleanups and wetlands restoration, with a focus on mercury pollution and the control and prevention of invasive species.
Great Lakes advocates applauded Obama's proposal, but pointed out it is only one quarter of the $20 billion price tag a complete restoration is expected to cost. Lubetkin notes that the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a sweeping plan for restoration, was created by President Bush's executive order in May 2004 -- but funding was never passed to carry it out.
"Bush signed the executive order in a closely contested election year, which was worthwhile and important, but once he got elected he turned his back on it," said Lubetkin. "There will be a lot of promises made during election season, but we want to make sure both John McCain and Barack Obama carry water on their promises to the Great Lakes."
Posted at 2:29 PM ET on Sep 17, 2008
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