Environmental Policy in the Great Lakes Region: Current Issues and Public Opinion
Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy, No. 10, April 2014
28 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2015
Date Written: 2014
The Great Lakes are an iconic natural feature of the boundary between Canada and the United States. In addition to their striking size and ecological importance, they also have great economic and cultural importance for the Great Lakes Region. Historically, the Lakes provided a means for regional trade, giving rise to outposts that now constitute the Region’s largest cities, Chicago and Toronto. An abundance of fresh water was also crucial for industrialization, and led to the construction of the many factories and power plants that line the shores of Lakes Michigan, Erie, and Ontario. Additionally, the Lakes serve as the backdrop of innumerable family photos of the vacationers who flock to them in the summer to splash in the waves or cast a fishing line.
Despite their importance and iconic status, the Great Lakes have seen their fair share of challenges. Prime among these are environmental concerns, from localized pollution in the 19th century, to the fishery collapses of the 1950s, to current concerns over algal blooms and the potential introduction of Asian carp. While these concerns are not unique to the Great Lakes system, the scale of the Great Lakes Basin does make the Great Lakes a special case. Not only do the Lakes collectively hold 20% of the world’s fresh water, but the Basin includes two sovereign nations, eight US states and one Canadian province, thousands of local governments, more than 40 tribes and First Nations, and is home to more than 33 million residents. As a result, setting policies to regulate and protect these shared waters is a highly complex endeavor.
This report reviews historical and current environmental problems in the Great Lakes and discusses attempts to address them through both joint (Canada-US) and unilateral policy. It then presents the results of a telephone survey of 1,247 residents in the Great Lakes Basin conducted in November and December 2013. The survey aimed to gauge public opinion on the value, current health and success of efforts to manage this shared resource, as well as measure residents’ support for a number of policy options to address issues ranging from invasive species and pharmaceutical contamination to climate change and energy. While more than 65 public opinion studies related to the Great Lakes have been conducted over the past three decades, few have included significant numbers of both American and Canadian respondents to allow for cross-border comparison. Moreover, few have covered such a wide range of topics as are included in this report. The findings in this paper allow us not only to provide a representative sample of opinion throughout the Basin, but to also note where national differences exist. Two companion reports, also utilizing data from this survey, delve more deeply into the issues of wind energy and hydraulic fracturing in the Great Lakes Region.
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