By Gary Wilson
The Earth moved last week when Donald Trump was elected president.
We were collectively shocked, pleased, surprised and dismayed as the bombastic billionaire defied the polls and pundits to earn the right to succeed President Barack Obama in the White House.
And the Great Lakes region played significant role as five of the eight states went for Trump. They included Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin; the heart of the lakes.
Attention immediately turned to what does his victory mean? Will he — can he — do those radical things he said he would do in the campaign?
Predictions are rampant and cheap. If we’ve learned anything from this election, it’s that you prognosticate at your own peril. Polls and data are soft science and instant analysis shouldn’t be the order of the day.
My beat is the Great Lakes region from an environmental perspective and like many, I’ve been asking — what the heck does an East coast real estate magnate with an inflated ego know about the Great Lakes? Does he have even an inkling about what they are and why they’re important?
Unlike many who were wrong about the election and immediately flipped to predicting what Trump would do, I have no predictions.
But I do have advice.
Advice for Mr. Trump about the Great Lakes, what they need and what they don’t.
First the basics, President-elect Trump
- The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh surface water in an era when water is in demand and under threat.
- If a country, its economy would be would be the fourth largest in the world.
- And shockingly it has been home to two major drinking water failures in two years; Toledo and Flint.
- Lake Erie, in the heart of the corridor that elected you, has been listed by the U.S. and Canada as the only Great Lake in “poor” and “deteriorating” condition.
What to do?
Focus on drinking water
Clean, safe drinking water is arguably the most essential service a government provides. The state of Michigan, aided and abetted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, failed to provide safe water to the people of Flint.
Go against type; go back to Flint.
Put the gravitas of your office behind restoring Flint’s drinking water. It won’t be easy. It will cost money and take political will. The D.C. mindset is that Flint is a Michigan problem. It’s not. It’s a national problem.
You’ll long be remembered for what you do about Flint.
If you do nothing, people will say I told you so; he doesn’t care. If you help Flint and lead toward a remedy, you will be praised for making an effort to represent beyond your political base. Get off to a good start and err on the side of inclusion with some folks who aren’t your core constituency. These are folks who’ve been no one’s core constituency. It’s the right thing to do.
Fix Lake Erie
I’ve long-said that President Obama has been the best friend that the Great Lakes ever had. He began implementation of what his predecessor started — restoration of the Great Lakes — by funding projects to the tune of $2 billion.
But smack dab in the middle of that progress is Lake Erie; a failure that occurred on his watch and that of every commission, alliance, coalition, initiative and collaboration in the region who works on Great Lakes issues.
Nutrient pollution from farms is the primary culprit.
Direct your EPA administrator — yes, you’ll still have an EPA — to use the full authority of the agency to force Michigan and Ohio to focus on Lake Erie. Tell Ohio to follow Michigan’s lead and declare the lake “impaired,” which belatedly states the obvious.
Give farmers the bad news. Those squishy voluntary measures to reduce pollution runoff and use of best practices that have been their crutch don’t cut it. They’ve failed.
Hard pollutant reduction targets codified in law are needed for the lake to recover and your EPA will lead on that issue.
That means regulations.
And most businesses — farming is a business — don’t object to reasonable regulations in spite of their public bluster against them. They can and will adapt. Increased costs will be passed on as they always are, we’ll have clean, drinkable water in Lake Erie and the region will have taken a big step toward shedding its Rust Belt image.
You can champion that.
I could go on but the longer the to-do list the less likely any of it gets done.
Others will no doubt sprinkle Trump’s inbox with Great Lakes priorities. But few of them will be as important as Flint and clean drinking water and Lake Erie.
Expectations for President-elect Trump on the environment are low, deservedly so. That’s because his campaign rhetoric set the bar low. That’s the environmental baggage he brings to his presidency.
But he can change that. He can lose that baggage and do something positive for people in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
He can give them clean drinking water. He can fix a failed Lake Erie.
That’s the least he can do for the for the states that launched his presidency.