Great Lakes have a role to play in presidential politics

The “Great Lakes Issue” is not like- ly to rise to the level of jobs and the economy in the two remaining months of the presidential campaign, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t And it will be for many who view the Great Lakes as the nation’s greatest single natural resource and, at least for the adjacent states, one of the greatest economic assets and potential job-creators an area could hope to have.

About 400 Great Lakes advocates and stakeholders are meeting this week in Cleveland for the Eighth Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference. They represent business, industry, academia and city, state and federal agencies, and they take the issue of all the Great Lakes seriously. The conference runs Tuesday through Thursday, and the last day will feature surrogates for President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney addressing questions of Great Lakes policy.

Given Ohio’s role as a swing state in this year’s presidential election, we’d suggest that President Obama and Gov. Romney take special note of how their campaign stands on protecting Lake Erie could affect the election.

A poll of Ohioans released in June by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition showed residents of the state believe the federal government should be protecting and spending money to restore Lake Erie and all the Great Lakes.

The survey of 804 general election voters was conducted by Fallon Research & Communications Inc. of Columbus from questions written by Belden Russonello Strategists LLC in Washington, D.C.

It showed 72 percent of all Ohio voters support continuing Great Lakes restoration funding (63 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats).

The poll showed broad bipartisan support for an expansive reading of the Clean Water Act.

And half of Ohio voters supports erecting a barrier in the Chicago River to keep out the Asian carp, while about 30 percent oppose that idea and 20 percent are unsure.

Imperfect record

To his credit, Obama’s administration has spent more than $1 billion that was approved by Congress for Great Lakes restoration and has requested $300 million for the current fiscal year. However, we have criticized the president in the past for showing greater deference to Chicago interests than to the rest of the Great Lakes states regarding aggressive action in heading off an invasion of the Asian carp that could drastically alter the lakes’ environment.

The most effective way of blocking carp from migrating into the lakes from the Mississippi would be blocking Chicago area waterways and canals that provide a direct link to Lake Michigan. Government and financial interests in Chicago are willing to take their chances with an Asian carp invasion rather than lose shipping access to the Mississippi.

That’s quite a gamble by Chicago and Illinois, which could represent an enormous loss for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario, Canada, if even a very small number of Asian carp gain entry to the lakes and find spawning grounds.

But as important as the Asian carp issue is, there are other Great Lakes issues the Obama and Romney campaigns must address, including funding for additional restoration and cleanup, environmental policy to prevent further pollution, including controlling pesticide run-offs, dredging contaminated sediments and restoring habitat for fish and wildlife, flooding and sewage control and combatting harmful algal blooms that pose a risk to people, fish and wildlife.

The Great Lakes may not be the top issue facing this year’s presidential candidates, but it will be a factor in Ohio — one state neither candidate can afford to lose.

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