Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Groups Continue Push To Slow Down Great Lakes Agreement

Feb 16: Environmental organizations are warning that the public is at risk of being shut out of renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the landmark policy that, since 1972, has driven critical public health and water quality improvements in the region. In a letter sent to the governments three weeks ago [See WIMS 1/28/10], over 30 groups expressed concern that "this oversight would seriously undermine confidence in the final Agreement, depriving the governments of public input now and public support later." They said, to date, government negotiators have failed to acknowledge the letter and its recommendations.
    John Jackson, Director of Clean Production and Toxics with Great Lakes United said, "Canada and the United States have created a process that stifles public involvement and shuts out constructive input. Ultimately, this will fail their citizens, fail the communities dependent on the lakes for their livelihood, and fail the Great Lakes themselves." The groups said in a release that the letter of concern was sent after the governments outlined steps for the renegotiation that would rush the process through by the end of the year. The first step of that process, a "governance" comment period, closed yesterday -- giving the public just a month's notice to offer input on a complex set of issues and no hint of what either nation is proposing.
    In comments on governance issues submitted on February 15, to the governments, the groups argued that "if we fail to reform governance issues -- the rules and systems by which the U.S. and Canada and their agencies work together on Great Lakes challenges -- then our ability to make genuine progress on specific issues such as toxics, invasive species, and climate change will fall far short of what the lakes need." The groups said they are concerned that if this comment period is any example, the whole process of renegotiating the Agreement could fail. The Agreement has been renegotiated twice in the past and they point out that in each instance, public and scientific input has been critical in better defining the agreement's scope, and in setting strong obligations that have "dramatically improved the health of the Great Lakes." They cite, for example, in 1987, more than 30 citizen hearings were held across the region.
    The letter to the governments included six recommendations to improve the process: (1) Release a draft government position or options paper on governance issues. (2) The release of the draft government position or options paper should set off a 60-day public comment period. (3) Once the governments have negotiated draft language on governance, release it again for a public comment period. (4) For the "issues" consultations, follow a process similar to recommendations 1-3, with the release of a draft position or options paper followed by a 60-day public comment period followed by another opportunity for comment after the governments have completed their first round of negotiations on the topic. (5) Compile a web-posted summary of comments received from public input at each stage of the consultations. (6) Release a final draft of the complete revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement for comment prior to completing negotiations and hold public hearings in both countries on this draft.
    Access a release from the groups with links to more information on the recommendations and the letter (click here).