News from DC drives home the point that the Gulf of Maine needs the same kind of organizing and advocacy that has resulted in a $475,000,000 line item in the President’s budget for restoration of the Great Lakes. Although this is only a fraction of the $26 Billion called for in an interagency restoration plan for the Lakes, it is the largest appropriation for Great Lakes restoration ever requested by a President. With $ billions more coming to the Great Lakes through the economic stimulus package and from a portion of the $3.9 Billion in the President’s budget for waste water infrastructure, the past two weeks have resulted in over $3 Billion in planned or approved funding for Great Lakes restoration!
This is an extraordinary success story for Great Lakes advocates, especially the Healing Our Waters®--Great Lakes Coalition, representing over 100 zoos, aquariums, businesses, and conservation organizations. The coalition has been pressing Congress for four years to finance the implementation of the Great Lakes Regional Collaborative Strategy—a blue print for restoration of the Great Lakes. Coalition activities have centered on a very well organized and sustained communications, education, and outreach effort that has included Great Lakes lobby days, in which hundreds of citizens descend on Washington each year to visit key members of Congress.
Meanwhile, in DC this week, there was increasing talk by the new directors of agencies like the EPA and Council on Environmental Quality about national ecosystem restoration work. And, finally, the Gulf of Maine—which was virtually off the map a few months ago—is starting to get mentioned. But we are a long way from getting the kind of funding for restoration that is being directed to the Great Lakes. Fortunately, a Gulf of Maine Restoration and Protection Initiative (www.gulfofmaine.org/gomrc) is gaining momentum in the region, with state and federal agencies, businesses and non-profit groups coming together to create a comprehensive restoration plan. Just having a comprehensive plan and price tag will put the Gulf of Maine on a similar footing with other aquatic ecosystems like the Everglades and Great Lakes that have long been on the Congressional agenda.
With earmarks falling into bad favor these days, it’s gong to be increasingly difficult to get Congress to direct significant funding to local or even regional projects. But with so many major aquatic ecosystems around the country suffering from identical or similar problems (loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat, toxic sediments, storm water and waste water contamination, and invasive species), a more comprehensive, “America’s Great Waters” approach will be needed to in order to gain enough political support to appropriate the massive amounts of money required. (Nearly $400 Billion is needed just to upgrade the nation’s storm water and waste water systems.) Fortunately, the Gulf of Maine is home to two of the most important people in the United States Senate: Senator Susan Collins and Senator Olympia Snowe.
The stars are aligned now, and many agencies and non-profits in the Gulf of Maine are finally coming together to create the comprehensive restoration plan that will be the ticket of admission to a national Great Waters program. The philanthropic and business communities now need to join in the process and provide some of the underwriting support upon which the process will depend.