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Great Lakes are a resource border states must protect



Published: Sun, June 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Great Lakes need protection from those who would exploit the enormous resources of the lakes to solve short-term problems.

There are those who would drill beneath the lakes to extract oil and gas to solve an energy crisis. There are those who would divert the very water contained within the lakes to slake their thirst.

It is important for the Great Lakes states -- all of them -- to stand together to protect the integrity of the lakes. There are no short-term gains that are worth endangering the ecology of a water system that holds a fifth of all the fresh water found on earth.

Renegade: Yet, Michigan appears ready to break ranks with its neighbors. Gov. John Engler and other politicians in that state are planning to drill for oil. Michigan has access to three of the lakes, Michigan, Superior and Erie. The shortsightedness of drilling beneath a lake that provides a torrent of fresh water in hopes of recovering a comparative trickle of oil boggles the mind.

And, of course, once Michigan breaks ranks, it will be difficult if not impossible for some other states to resist the temptation.

One proposal now in Congress that would discourage drilling would offer loans and grants for parks and conservation projects in states that do not drill under their waters. Those states that drill could face penalties, such as diminished funding for water and sewer projects.

That, frankly, is a poor substitute for an agreement between the Great Lakes states to continue to prohibit drilling. It shouldn't be necessary to get the federal government involved in protecting this resource from being exploited by one neighbor.

None of the Great Lakes states should want the federal government involving itself in management of the lakes any more than is absolutely necessary.

If Washington sets policy today for oil and natural gas issues on the lakes, it will be that much easier for Washington to some day dictate that the water of the Great Lakes be shared with arid sections of the country thousands of miles away.

Agreement: Just last week, the governors of the eight states that border the Great Lakes and the premiers of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec agreed to curtail the export of water to inland municipalities.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, departing chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said pressure is mounting every day to divert, sell and withdraw water from the Great Lakes.

It's heartening to see that all of the Great Lakes states can agree on the importance of keeping the water in the basin. It's unfortunate that Michigan apparently can't see the need to protect that water from the possible contamination that comes with oil and gas exploration.




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