Six months ago it appeared that the state of Michigan was ready to be a Great Lakes renegade, approving the drilling of new oil and gas wells beneath Lake Michigan while all other Great Lakes states had pledged to keep their hands off.
Michigan Gov. John Engler seemed determined to thumb his nose at his Great Lakes brethren. He said Michigan's industry needed the energy and Michigan's coffers could use the income.
By the time a federal moratorium on drilling in all the lakes expired in 2003, Michigan was planning on being ready to award contracts.
Plan derailed: A funny thing happened on the way to Engler's oil rush. The legislature sensed a different mood among the people and stepped in.
A law banning new gas and oil drilling under Michigan's portion of the Great Lakes took effect Friday without Engler's signature. He didn't sign it, but neither did he veto it, so after sitting on his desk for two weeks the measure became law.
Engler was somewhat defiant to the end, claiming that he remains convinced that drilling can be done without harming the lakes. He implied that he would have vetoed the bill, but that would have made it a major issue in the race between his possible successors. Engler, who can't run again, didn't want to see that happen.
We don't much care what motivated Engler to do the right thing, as long as he did it.
Had Michigan broken the ban, there would have been heavy pressure on other Great Lakes states to do likewise. It's safe to assume that every state has some politicians who are more than willing to trade the short term prospects of a quick energy fix and a shot in the arm for the state budget against the long-range safety of an irreplaceable resource.
The lakes hide a tiny fraction of the gas and oil reserves in the world, but hold fully a fifth of the total fresh water that can be found on the planet. Endangering a torrent of water for a trickle of oil doesn't make sense.
Now we have to convince our Canadian neighbors of that. While the states have shown restraint, the Canadian provinces have allowed drilling.