No one has ever accused President Bush of being conservative when it comes to the desire to drill for oil or natural gas, yet even he says the Great Lakes should be off limits.
If a gas hawk doesn't want to tap lakes Superior, Michigan, Erie, Ontario and Huron, what does that make Michigan Gov. John Engler?
While other Great Lakes states have agreed to do their part to protect the largest body of fresh water in the nation from exploration and exploitation, Michigan insists on going its own way. While other governors, including Bob Taft of Ohio, have shown remarkable restraint, Engler seems quite content to play the role of an energy piglet squealing, "Gimme mine and give it to me now."
Different views: Engler, a Republican, is considering issuing as many as 30 more leases for directional drilling from Michigan's lakefront. Meanwhile, Taft, also a Republican, is standing firm and says he'll sign legislation prohibiting drilling from the Ohio shore if it is passed.
Both Engler and Taft are Republicans, both are from old-line industrial states (it's becoming unfashionable to call them Rust Belt states), both have shown genuine concern for economic development. So what puts Taft and Engler at polar ends on the issue of drilling beneath the Great Lakes?
Maybe it's a matter of perception. Taft, as the latest in a family line that includes a cabinet secretary, a president and chief justice of the United States and two U.S. senators over a period of 125 years, may have a better sense of the nation's lifeline. Perhaps Taft sees that the United States has been here for about 225 years now and, hopefully, will be around for a few hundred more at least. Given that, it isn't necessary or advisable to drill like there is no tomorrow.
Look ahead: The day may come when the nation's need for energy or the region's need for economic growth makes it necessary to drill beneath the lakes. Presumably, when that day comes the technology will be even better than it is today, lessening the chance for ecological damage.
When that day comes, all the Great Lakes states can have a lively discussion of the pros and cons.
Until then, Michigan should get with the program. If it doesn't, it may be necessary to actively seek congressional intervention. It would be better to keep Washington out of it. In the meantime, the states should be putting pressure on our neighbors to the North to stop Canadian drilling beneath the lakes. The fact that Ontario is allowing drilling doesn't make Michigan right, it only shows that Canadians can be as short-sighted as Michiganders.