Remarks by Samuel W. Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, upon his election as chair of the Great Lakes Commission and setting out his priorities for the Commission in the upcoming year.
Thank you for your vote of confidence in me and Vice Chair Tom Huntley. We pledge our dedication to working with you and our fine staff to advance the Commission’s work.
A special thanks goes to Nat Robinson for the energy, enthusiasm, inspiration, and vision he has provided the Commission and the results that his leadership has achieved. The results are perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in the development of the Commission’s Great Lakes Program to Ensure Environmental and Economic Prosperity.
And thanks to outgoing Immediate Past Chair Irene Brooks for her work on behalf of the Commission, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and now through her appointment to the International Joint Commission.
“The Commission has a number of absolutely critical contributions to make in advancing the region’s environmental and economic well-being.”
Finally, thanks to President Mike Donahue and the staff of the Great Lakes Commission for the substantial progress that we have made on a number of program fronts, for the move into more appropriate headquarters, and for the additions to our talented staff which adds important capacity for meeting the needs of the Great Lakes region and, indeed, the nation.
It is an exciting time to assume the Chair of the Commission given the issues and opportunities that confront us.
Today, we have repeatedly heard that the stars are aligning on a number of critical issues regarding what we need to do to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes basin and improve the quality of life in the region. But this does not mean that translating proposals into results will be easy. The change in the Great Lakes region’s political landscape widely expected to come about in the November election will mean that we will have to work hard to avoid at least temporary loss of momentum as new administrations find their way.
The Great Lakes Commission has a number of absolutely critical contributions to make in advancing the region’s environmental and economic well-being. No other organization possesses the breadth and depth of experience and expertise in addressing Great Lakes issues; no other organization possesses the capacity for networking and coalition building; no other organization has a more respected reputation for balanced, reasoned advocacy, and no organization is more ready to move ahead in it’s own right and to facilitate others in doing so.
“The aquatic nuisance species challenge must be addressed now.”
I believe that at this time our focus must be on at least the following four areas:
- First, we must be a leading partner in working with the Council of Great Lakes Governors to facilitate the implementation of the Annex to the Great Lakes Charter. The Council of Great Lakes Governors is moving forward in their work and the Commission is actively involved through providing leadership in developing a decision support system for Annex implementation. There will undoubtedly be additional roles for us to play in this arena.
- Second, building on much of the work of the Great Lakes Commission the Council of Great Lakes Governors is moving forward with its version of a Great Lakes regional priorities plan drawing much from the work that we have been doing in developing the Great Lakes Program to Ensure Environmental and Economic Prosperity.
- Third, the aquatic nuisance species challenge must be addressed now. It is totally unacceptable that Congress has not reauthorized and strengthened the National Invasive Species Act and provided the resources and plan to address the specific threat of Asian Carp entering the Great Lakes. Aquatic nuisance species are not merely nuisances. In reality they are truly aquatic terrorists and demand a commensurate response.
- Fourth, there are a number of other issues that demand our continuing thoughtful attention including a number of transportation matters such as the Soo Lock project, reconciling trade and security policy needs, and the proposed Great Lakes transportation study.
I expect to support your priorities even as I play a role in helping to develop and shape Commission priorities; and I expect those priorities to evolve based upon our existing adopted plans and priorities and upon priority recommendations coming out of the Quebec semi-annual meeting.
I will work hard to build an even stronger partnership among the Commission, Council of Great Lakes Governors, and the Great Lakes Protection Fund as well as other basin partners. Partnerships require continued nurturing and we will do so.
Together we will pursue an active, aggressive presence in Washington. Among other things we will assess the relevant GAO Great Lakes program reviews to assist us in working with Congress and federal agencies to improve federal programs.
“I will work hard to build an even stronger partnership among the Commission, Council of Great Lakes Governors, and the Great Lakes Protection Fund.”
We will also work even more closely with the Council of Great Lakes Governors in pursuing our mutual interests vis-a-vis Congress especially in regard to implementation of the Great Lakes Annex and the pursuit of Great Lakes priorities for the protection and restoration of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin; of course this implies continuing our close relationship with the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force and the Northeast Midwest Institute. We will seek to expand discussion with the Administration, including inviting further interaction with the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
We will also endeavor to expand coordination of advocacy efforts with our respective states’ Washington offices.
And, finally, we will vigorously engage with our other partners within and outside the basin.
A principal focus has often rightly been on interaction with and advocacy for federal entities but I would hope that we would also continue to focus on what states and provinces can and are doing independent of but supported by the federal government.
The Great Lakes Commission is an enormous contributor to the progress we are making in the basin through the Commission’s role in acquiring and distributing grant dollars. Is there more we can do in coaching and facilitating sub-national entities in areas where they may not be aware of grant opportunities?
“We will vigorously engage with our other partners within and outside the basin.”
Under Nat Robinson’s leadership, the Commission greatly expanded cooperation with the Canadian Great Lakes provinces and began to engage more broadly on the international front. I would hope that we would continue to do so where mutual interests may be advanced.
I conclude by returning to an earlier observation. This is an exciting time for the Commission. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities. And so I ask you: “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I propose that our answer, and hence motto, for this next year should be“Us, Now.”
“Us, Now,” we can make the difference.