Congress Opens Round Two on Great Lakes Restoration

For the second time in two years, Great Lakes Congressional leaders today introduced legislation to implement the Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes. But don't expect the $20 billion proposal to move in 2007. It's all about building momentum for next year, and using the issue to size up candidates in the looming presidential election.

The plan would launch a historic environmental rehab project. It aims to refurbish the Rust Belt image by cleaning up contaminated waterways, eliminating sewage spills, stopping invasive species, rehabing wetlands, and other laudable environmental goals.

But it's much more than a 20th century style environmental remediation effort. It can also serve as a direct response to the region's dismal economic woes. The plan would generate tens of thousands of jobs in the flattened Midwest, accelerate urban revitalization in some of the nation's most decrepit cities, spur innovation and modern industry, and position the greater Great Lakes region to compete and win the global knowledge economy of the 21st century.

Looking at it that way, the $20 billion plan looks less like a big unreasonable government expense and more like a crucial investment that will reap huge returns for a major economic and cultural center of America. That makes Great Lakes restoration an attractive initiative for the herd of civic leaders vying to win competitive states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin and become the next president of the United States.

"There's a 127 electoral votes in the Great Lakes region," IL Rep. Mark Kirk, a cosponsor of the latest bill, said in today's press conference. "So this is a great issue to raise with every man and woman running for president."

"Every four years a presidential election comes about," said IL Rep. Rahm Emanuel, another cosponsor, "and every four years people start talking about battleground states. The battleground states this time around is the Third Coast in America called the Great Lakes. And if you align your policy with the politics great things can happen."