27 June 2010

Fight Lies Ahead to Save the Great Lakes

Port Huron Times Herald

The ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been called the worst environmental disaster in American history. That might be true, but it is also subjective.

The list of American environmental tragedies is both long and sad. Other candidates for the "worst" label might include the modern practice of mining coal by blowing the tops off mountains and bulldozing the rubble into the valleys.

In the past 20 years, mountaintop removal has devastated an area of Appalachia larger than Delaware. It has destroyed hundreds of miles of trout streams and despoiled some of the finest hardwood forests on the planet.

Another contender for the "worst environmental tragedy" is emerging in Chicago, where an Asian carp has been found on the wrong side of an electric barrier meant to keep the voracious fish out of the Great Lakes.

A 20-pound, 30-inch bighead carp has been found in Calumet Lake in south Chicago, just 6 miles up a murky shipping canal from Lake Michigan.

Ontario and the Great Lakes states, with the notable exception of Illinois, have been pleading with the federal government to close the man-made canals that divert water from Lake Michigan into tributaries of the Mississippi River.

These canals are superhighways for Asian carp, which needed only 20 years to become the dominant fish species in the Mississippi watershed. If they reach the Great Lakes, they threaten to destroy a sports fishery valued at $7.5 billion a year.

They also will destroy one of the planet's most unique ecosystems, truly an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

Illinois strongly opposes closing the canals, saying it would cost the Chicago area as much as $4.7 billion in commerce in the next 20 years. Its chamber of commerce, with its parochial mindset, conveniently makes no mention of the $150 billion the wider region stands to lose.

Michigan lawmakers once again are calling on President Barack Obama to close the locks. "This was so tragically predictable," U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said of the latest news.

Thus far, the president has sided with the interests of his hometown, Chicago. His administration supports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to protect shipping interests. It also supports the U.S. Supreme Court, which repeatedly has refused to hear the case for closing the locks.

If the Great Lakes ecosystem as we know it is lost, our friends in Chicago surely will shrug and say it was inevitable.

Perhaps it is inevitable, but losing such a treasure without a fight is worse than folly. It is cowardice. It is avarice. It is madness.

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