Where's the Great Lakes Leadership

Even amidst a wrenching economic transition, just 52 of the 141 political leaders elected to represent the greater Great Lakes region in Washington D.C. officially support a visionary national strategy to restore the region's globally unique waterways, generate tens of thousands of jobs for out of work voters, and boost the region's competitiveness for the 21st century.

The proposed Great Lakes Restoration Implementation Act, first introduced in 2006, and again in March 2007 in both the House and the Senate, is a bipartisan bill supported by some 90 civic organizations across the Midwest. But only 43 of the region's 125 members in the House of Representatives, and 9 of the 16 Senators, have signed on to advance the legislation. The $20 billion public works project would, among other things, restore sensitive coastal areas, cleanup toxic pollution left behind by the Industrial Era, and upgrade outdated sewer infrastructure.

Or how about just cleaning up those creepy black barrels, pictured above, beside the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland. The same scene is on the shores of Lake Muskegon in Michigan, and beside the Buffalo River in New York.

Still, a mere 37 percent of the region's national leadership supports the investment. Lack of support stems from a number of different reasons. Some, like Congressman John McHugh of New York, oppose the bill based on minor provisions to protect wetlands, according to Washington insiders. Others say the bill is a costly, big government welfare program designed to appease a minority of special environmental interests. Some simply don't live close enough to the waters to care.

Bottom line: Enacting the restoration proposal is a strategic way to streamline government, eliminate wasteful spending, reverse decades of economic and environmental decline in the Midwest, and reknit the basic fabric of one of America's most important mega regions.

At this point, Great Lakes leaders not actively supporting the legislation are increasingly out of touch with the region's basic needs. They are also distancing themselves from legitimate public policy responses that will move the region toward modernity in the global community.

Tomorrow we'll break down who's on board, and who's not, with bill #791 in the Senate and #1350 in the House.