Academic & NGO Panel.

PositionNongovernmental organizations - A State-Provincial Approach to Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes Basin: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Moderator: Stephen J. Petras, Jr.

Speakers: Todd Brennan, Dr. Diane Dupont & Howard Learner

MR. PETRAS: We have three panelists today. We have Todd Brennan, Senior Policy Director, Alliance for the Great Lakes. He's located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We have Diane Dupont, Scientific Director, Water Economics, Policy and Governance Network at Brock University. And we have Howard Lerner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. I've asked of them, as well, to provide their comments within three to five minutes, and then hopefully we'll have time for questions and answers from that panel.

The first presenter is Todd Brennan, Senior Policy Director, Alliance for the Great Lakes. So, Todd, the floor is yours.

MR. TODD BRENNAN: Great. Thanks, Stephen. It's interesting, I just went to find my screen and it disappeared, but I got these little prompts that I can turn my video on, and I can turn ... So, I can't see myself, but hopefully you can all see me.

MR. PETRAS: We can see you, yes.

MR. BRENNAN: Great. Well thank you for inviting me to this, and I also want to say thank you to Kate and Irena for the very thought-provoking approach to this, which I think we all need.

So, as Stephen said, my name is Todd Brennan, and I am from the Alliance for the Great Lakes, where I work primarily on nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms, and a number of policy issues, but also the Great Lakes [Water] Quality [Agreement] and the Great Lakes [-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources] Compact. And I'm usually going from one presentation to another presenting or discussing those topics completely separately, so I give great credit to Irena and Kate. I never thought I'd actually see a panel discussion where those two topics came together, conjoined in their paper. So, that's kind of an interesting approach for me.

But harmful algal blooms and nutrient pollution are preeminent among the issues that the Alliance for the Great Lakes deals with. Naturally, as you'd imagine with our name, we are dedicated to ensuring a healthy Great Lakes for future generations of both people and wildlife forever. And given the pervasive nature, and growing issue with nutrient pollution and the result of harmful algal blooms, it's of great concern to us. It's being dealt with now in every lake, as we've seen from the prior presentations, and in lakes like Lake Superior where, historically, up until very recently, that was never an issue. And so, this is concerning both because it's growing in its scale and its spatial reach, and also its unique--it's hitting different parts of the lakes unlike it has before.

And then you can pan to western Lake Erie, where you have nearly twelve million people plagued by their drinking water issues. And nothing was more evidence than the city of Toledo in 2014, when the water was shut off because of cyanotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms for nearly three days.

So, with that as a preface, obviously this is of very much importance to us, and I appreciate the thought exercise. And it needs work, right? Because it's been well-established, even from the prior presentations, that this is an issue that's not going away. It's growing in its extent, as I mentioned, and in some cases its extremity. We don't seem to be moving the needle, necessarily. But worse yet, we don't seem to be knowing where the needle is pointing us. And I think what this paper proposes is a mechanism by which we could think about how to, sort of, gain ground on that part, which is assessment, evaluation, and then funneling that back into actual meaningful policy change that we'll see on the landscape, that will ultimately try to ameliorate this problem.

At issue for me, primarily, is accountability and enforcement. It was actually mentioned sixth, or last, among the critical sub-federal elements that the paper proposed. But, I felt like if you put that to number one, it would then be the lens by which you could look at the other five to assess their effectiveness. As we've heard from previous presenters on the regulator panel, we do have a lot of these elements, and I think you could argue any one of these things, in and of itself. But when you take them as a whole, does it sort of systemically represent what we need to fix this problem? And I think that's what the paper obviously argues, and puts good thought into.

Without an effort towards accountability and enforcement, I think any new government effort would be akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We know it would be--unfortunately, not intentionally--but it would be a boondoggle. It probably wouldn't get us where we need to go. So, thinking this through is really critical. And I feel like we've heard that from the previous panelists as well.

I think what we see in every jurisdiction is that this accountability and enforcement issue is a tripping block for all jurisdictions. Therefore, the premise of having a sort of compact that cuts across all Great Lake states might have some merit. When we think of it geographically in terms of Green Bay, western Lake Erie, Hamilton Harbor, it doesn't always make sense to us because we're so used to dealing with those issues specifically in their geographic locations. But, the idea that we know that this is happening in all states, it's happening in all Great Lakes. And it's also an issue that's happening throughout the state, and arguably, maybe even worse in some inland waterways.

I think if you do make comparisons to things like the Great Lakes [-St. Lawrence River] Basin [Water] Resources Compact, it's interesting because you think about, when that was implemented, it came with implementing legislation so that laws, policies, and management actually changed to implement that, and it changed across the entire state. There were obviously policies that dealt with the Great Lakes watershed aspect. But largely--I spend a lot of time on the Great Lakes [-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources] Compact--policies changed across the entire state, and actually lifted water management and water policy up for the entire state, and improved it. So, one of the things that the Great Lakes [St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources] Compact did for us was that. And when it comes to nutrient pollution, everyone also has this in common. Thinking more largely in that way might be beneficial.

Secondly, on that point, the [Great Lakes-St...

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