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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Great Lakes Week Event in Detroit, As Prepared

10/12/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you to all of you who are “Taking Action Together.” This week is the first time so many regional leaders and leading organizations have gotten together in one place, at one time, to show support for this effort and our shared dedication for getting results for the Great Lakes. That is a dedication shared by me, my colleagues across the federal government, and of course, President Obama. Having lived, worked and started a family near the shores of Lake Michigan, President Obama has been a long-time advocate of protecting the Great Lakes. He knows how important they are to the region and – as the home of about 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water – to the entire United States. As President, his advocacy for these waters has only grown. He has turned the resources of multiple federal agencies toward setting a new standard of care for these waters – in partnership with all of you.

It’s also no surprise that we are in Detroit today. This is a place that has earned its history of success, and seen its share of challenges over the year. This city and its many industries rose up around the meeting of Lake Huron and the Detroit River, and with Lake Erie just downstream. Decades of building warehouses, factories and parking lots right up to the water’s edge meant that people were disconnected from their waterfront. Years of pollution posed serious threats to both the immediate and long term health of the local waters. That is, until visionaries like then-city councilman and council President Carl Levin, and more recently Faye Nelson, along with many others decided it was time to bring the waterfront back.

Foot by foot, yard by yard, and gallon by gallon, the Detroit River and its shoreline has been restored for this community. We are seeing today that urban renewal and community revitalization can begin with renewing riverfronts, harbors and lakefronts – as well as the waters they connect us to. That fight to bring back the riverfront here isn’t so different from what we are working to accomplish throughout the Great Lakes system. Acre by acre, mile by mile you are all taking steps to ensure these magnificent waterbodies are pulled back from the brink.

That was the thinking when President Obama unveiled his Great Lakes Restoration Initiative a little more than two years ago. We have the vision for what we want our coastal parks and cities and open waters to be. Now it is a matter of dedicating the resources and work to turn that vision into a reality. Just last year we joined several of the Great Lakes’ governors to release our 16-agency Action Plan. Under that plan – I’m proud to say – you are already showing results:

At the Shiawassee flats north of here, fish and wildlife habitat are coming back after decades of losses. That will help improve water quality, reduce flooding and support this region’s proud outdoor heritage.

At Chicago’s beaches, swimming bans and advisories are at a five-year low.

And after more than two decades of frustratingly slow progress, we’re investing in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects in toxic hotspot Areas of Concern. We’re laying the groundwork for places like White Lake and River Raisin right here in Michigan, Sheboygan River and Harbor in Wisconsin, and Ashtabula River in Ohio – all of which will ultimately be taken off the cleanup list.

People have spent their entire careers trying to check these communities off the list of places plagued by pollution. We’re taking those steps and getting results, thanks to you.

This is, of course, just the beginning. We have a long way to go. To help guide the work ahead, I’m proud to announce today – on behalf of the federal Inter-Agency Task Force – our key priorities for 2012 and 2013:

While continuing to plan for rapid responses, we must step up our efforts to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. We know that prevention is far more cost-effective than dealing with the damage that has already been done.

With record-setting harmful algae levels occurring in parts of the Great Lakes, we are focusing resources on reducing phosphorus to the watersheds of Ohio’s Maumee River, Michigan’s Saginaw River, and Wisconsin’s Lower Fox River.

And we are making it a priority to finish the job, in 2013-2014, at the Deer Lake, Manistique River, St. Clair River, St. Mary’s River and Waukegan Harbor Areas of Concern.

On that last point of cleaning up Areas of Concern, we are asking for greater assistance from all of you here today. While the Restoration Initiative can offer up to 65 percent federal funding to clean up remaining toxic hotspots, the balance must come from somewhere. This week, in conjunction with the Great Lakes Commission, we’re releasing a brochure to show how the rest of the financing can work. You don’t have to be a public finance expert to take a copy and begin promoting this important program because it’s the key to more progress in our Areas of Concern. Coming together to address those areas of concern is perfect example of this spirit of “Taking Action Together.” I look forward to tackling those priorities with all of you.

Since the beginning of this Administration, President Obama has made restoring our nation’s waters a top priority. It’s an issue that has kept a lot of us very busy for the last 2 years – on everything from Recovery Act investments to the historic restoration efforts on treasured waterbodies to the work we are doing through this restoration initiative. Other efforts, like the America’s Great Outdoors partnership and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership are supporting important steps to keep vital American waterways clean and safe.

Even some of our air programs are essential to this work. I’m sure many of you saw the recent report from the Great Lakes Commission that looked closely at mercury in the Lakes. After taking more than 45,000 samples from fish, birds and other wildlife in 35 separate studies, they found that not only is mercury more widespread than they thought – but also that levels have been rising in some species.

EPA has proposed the first ever Mercury and Air Toxics standards for power plants, which will help significantly reduce the amount of mercury that is released into our air and makes its way into our waters. We are committed to finalizing those standards because it will clean up the air we breathe and benefit the health of our children – and because it will help reduce the mercury in our environment that pollutes the Great Lakes.

These waters are working harder than ever before. Some 42 million Americans and Canadians depend on Great Lakes for drinking water. And the waters support 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages annually. For the Great Lakes to continue to take care of us, we need to take care of them. Thank you for coming together this week under the banner of “Taking Action Together” to do just that. Thank you very much.