Contact Us


Speeches - By Date


Great Lakes Coordination and Collaboration

Remarks announcing the Great Lakes Executive Order of 2004, delivered in Chicago, Illinois.

The Great Lakes holds 20% of the world’s surface fresh water. They are in the middle of one of the world’s most productive agricultural areas. Commercial ships from all over the world ply their waters. A four-season climate supports many types of recreation, including boating, fishing and swimming. More than one-tenth of the U.S. population and one-quarter of the population of Canada call the Great Lakes Basin home. Without question, the Great Lakes touch an incredible number of this nation’s citizens.

As a result of all of these factors, the Great Lakes are faced with a myriad of problems, from invasive species to wastewater discharges. Solving each of these problems would be complex even for a single entity, but the Great Lakes border eight states, two countries, and many, many communities. Local, tribal, state, provincial and federal governments in the U.S. and Canada share responsibility for regulating the Lakes. Numerous non-governmental organizations also play important roles in Great Lakes research and program implementation.

Over the past 25 years, at every level of government, programs have been created to care for the Great Lakes. In the federal government alone there are approximately 140 programs. As recently as last week, the Great lakes Governors outlined their priorities in a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Chairmen and Ranking Members. Congressional hearings on the Great Lakes will take place later this week. To use a metaphor: we have lots of musicians, but we need more harmony.

This morning, President Bush signed an Executive Order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lead a regional collaboration of national significance for the Great Lakes. He sent me to the shores of Lake Michigan today to announce this collaboration and begin meeting with our partners to organize this effort.

The President’sorder has two main elements. First, it creates a means to harmonize federal activities on the Great Lakes by creating the federal task force and appointing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to lead it. Second, the order initiates the creation of a “regional collaboration of national significance” to bring hundreds of regional, state, local, tribal and other interests together for the purpose of developing an overall strategy for protecting the Great Lakes as a national treasure.

Solutions to problems of this complexity must cross political boundaries. Some of those boundaries separate nations, states or municipalities. Other political boundaries that need to be transcended are between agencies within the same government or offices within the same department.

Successful regional collaborations of national significance should not be creatures of the federal government. The federal government’s role is that of convener and full participant. Once convened, the collaboration must have an independent governance process and work plan that produces a generation-to-generation plan to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

The hallmark of this effort must be “central coordination, local control.” Priorities, policies, and plans will be centrally coordinated; programs, projects and people will be locally controlled.

With respect to the harmonization of federal efforts on the Great Lakes, I will convene tomorrow at the White House a meeting that will include all of the relevant Cabinet members. At that meeting we will create the Great Lakes Regional Working Group called for in the President’s order.

With respect to regional collaboration, today, I join Governor Taft, in his capacity as Chairman of the Great Lakes Governors, and Mayor Daley, in his capacity as Chairman of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative,to discussthe organization of a broad-based regional collaboration to develop a generation-to-generation plan to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

Because this effort is a collaborative one, the answer to many of the natural questions regarding this effort will have to grow out of discussions between the participants. However, I can provide insight into the next steps.

Beginning today, I will be meeting with Governors, local officials, tribal leaders and non-governmental organizations to listen to their thoughts about how best to accomplish this task. We will invite participation of the Canadian government. Those contacts will be made through appropriate diplomatic channels.

The Governor, Mayor and I will create a small work group to draft a proposal for moving forward which will be discussed with key members of Congress, leaders of regional organizations, tribes, NGOs, and heads of federal agencies. We will propose that these conveners join us in aSummit later this year aimed at molding, shaping and formalizing the ongoing effort.

This regional collaboration of national significance will result in results-oriented strategies for making meaningful progress. The President has asked for a formal report by May 31, 2005.

It took decades for the Great Lakes to reach their current state. It will take decades for the Lakes to fully recover. Different problems will have different response times, and even when we fully implement the necessary remediation measures, it will take time for the ecosystem to respond. The important thing is that we are turning a corner and moving toward better coordinated efforts. This action will more effectively deploy existing resources and help generate more resources in the future.

We will restore and protect America’s fourth seacoast by harnessing the power of collaboration. I salute the President for his leadership, and thank our partners here today for their contributions.

EPA's Great Lakes Site