'If We Lose the EPA, We Lose Lake Erie,' Great Lakes Scientist Says

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Researchers and environmental scientists around the world have been circling the wagons in the wake of the Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. presidential election — and for good reason. During the recent Binational Meeting of the Lake Erie Millennium Network, for instance, Jeff Reutter, special adviser for the Ohio Sea Grant program, said, "If we lose the EPA, we lose Lake Erie."

HR 861, introduced by three Republican representatives from the South, seeks to eliminate the U.S. EPA. Based on the tenor of recent Senate confirmation hearings and the president's general approach to environmental regulations and oversight, it's not outside the realm of possibility that this resolution is approved. The pollution of Lake Erie (and the Cuyahoga River) led to an increased social awareness of environmental decline and our human impact, which in turn led to things like the creation of the U.S. EPA and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

One of the primary issues affecting the health of Lake Erie is the increased frequency of algal blooms, specially in the western basin. The U.S. EPA has a hand in regulating agricultural operations' impacts on the environment. Research has pointed to agricultural runoff as the main ingredient in algal blooms' steady and consistent growth. HR 861 — and President Donald Trump's promise that his administration will eliminate two regulations for every one regulation it enacts — would only, in theory, spur further pollution in Lake Erie, where an estimated 12 million people get their drinking water.

Agricultural runoff, however, is only one threat to the lake.

Man-made climate change, a thing that is not a Chinese hoax, has a wild array of impacts on Lake Erie. This year, the ice cover of the lake topped out around 35 percent; that is not an aberration at this point in time. Robert Michael McKay, a biology professor at Bowling Green State University said that there has been "a 75-percent decline in ice on the Great Lakes over the past 50 years," as Great Lakes Now reports. “It is significant and it parallels the declines in ice cover we’re seeing in the Arctic at present as well."

Cleveland's own Marc Lefkowitz recently wrote about the legacy of the Clean Water Act amid the increased influence of industrially generated climate change.

The [Cuyahoga] river connects to Lake Erie, our most important natural resource. Our health is bound to its health. Clean air and water have supplied countless benefits to Greater Clevelanders. Environmental protections have reduced cases of air and water-borne illness and have supported new life and biological diversity. In their book, "Natural Capitalism", national leaders on “capitalizing” on a clean environment, Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawkins, calculate that a clean environment provides billions of dollars in “ecological services” both to industry’s like the $1 billion Lake Erie fishing and tourism sector and in the avoided cost of hospitalization from asthma attacks and lead poisoning, which are both major concerns for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County children.

Unlike the Cuyahoga River catching fire, climate change is an emergency happening in slow motion. It has taken a generation to notice the clear and present danger of climate change. For decades now, the consensus report of the IPCC, the most comprehensive study of climate from hundreds of climate scientists around the world, has found “overwhelming evidence” that human behavior is influencing climate change.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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