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Environment minister Catherine McKenna needs to step up to protect the Great Lakes

Catherine McKenna, Scott Pruitt

US President Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency — and he is no friend of the environment or the Great Lakes.

CNBC reports, “Democrats and environmentalists opposed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and his history of casting doubt on climate change. Conservatives and the energy industry have cheered his efforts to push back on what they view as over-regulation under President Barack Obama. Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republican attorneys general to challenge Obama’s regulatory agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.”

In addition, The New York Times has noted, “Pruitt has harshly criticized the role of the federal agency, saying much of its authority should be dissolved and left to the states. Mr. Pruitt’s legal views on environmental protection broadly, and the role of the EPA specifically, appear to line up with Mr. Trump’s campaign claim that ‘Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace’.”

That article also highlighted, “Over 700 former EPA employees signed a letter to senators opposing his confirmation.”

Nicole Cantello, a lawyer at the EPA whose work focused on the Great Lakes, says, “I’m afraid all the work I’ve done will be abandoned.”

On March 16, Trump announced a budget that would cut $2.6 billion in funding from the EPA in 2018, including cutting one-fifth of the budget for the enforcement of the EPA’s clean air and water laws, the cutting of one in five EPA employees, and eliminating large-scale clean-up initiatives for the Great Lakes.

Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna met with Pruitt just after that budget announcement.

Contrary to all evidence, McKenna has commented, “I was pretty clear on how important continued investment by Canada and the U.S. is to the health of the Great Lakes, and I think he gets it. I think he understands the importance of the Great Lakes to the region and to the economy.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Given the Trudeau government has decided not to strongly denounce the funding cut to Great Lakes (a shared source of drinking water for 45 million Americans and Canadians) and has placed an emphasis on being amicable with the Trump administration — from the North American Free Trade Agreement to asylum seekers crossing into Canada fearful of Trump’s anti-immigration statements to possibly joining Trump’s “state of the art” multi-billion Star Wars missile defence plan — one hope is that the Trudeau government will do more themselves to protect the Great Lakes.

The Trudeau government has two imminent opportunities to do so:

1– Implement a comprehensive action plan to protect the Great Lakes (cost: $500 million in year one and $950 million a year in each of the following four years). Water campaigner Emma Lui has noted that the Trudeau government’s Budget 2016 allocated just $3.1 million to improve nearshore water and to address phosphorous pollution in Lake Erie. The federal government will table its budget on March 22, World Water Day.

2– Oppose the controversial plan to bury 200,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste near Lake Huron. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is currently reviewing the proposal and is expected to make recommendations to McKenna in the fall (September-October 2017). To call on McKenna to reject the nuclear dump on Lake Huron, click here.