Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Advocacy Grad Goes To Washington... For Gulf of Maine

The Portland Daily Sun ran the following editorial about Peter Alexander's work to restore the health and vitality of the Gulf of Maine on December 23, 2009. Peter was in the very first cohort of Antioch University's Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program... and has been making us all proud ever since.

Great Waters effort will need folk singer skills
Saving our watershed is too important to be interesting


Peter Alexander has an Interest-Significance Ratio challenge.

The ISR, as regular reader may recall against all odds, holds that the more significant something is, the more boring it becomes: The United Nations Summit on World Hunger could not be more important, yet is mostly followed by bloggers seeking new insomnia treatments. However, find a receipt for recently rented porn in your neighbor's recycling box — riveting. You can make your own list, but it's a national trend: C-Span's daily coverage of Congress spending billions and determining who gets health care? B-o-r-i-n-g. 

American Idol's weekly controversy over which judge said something stupid or a "reality" TV show about rich housewives proving that money doesn't come with directions? B-o-f-f-o.

Alexander, a sort of Swiss Army Knife of environmental activists, is out to adopt a regional water master plan.

Many in our local music scene know Alexander primarily as a folk singer, and his "change" songs have become important enough to the national health care debate that groups fly him around the country to play at rallies. But he's also been involved in the Great Lakes restoration and other water conservation efforts and recently visited Washington D.C. to for a series of meetings with congressfolk and EPA officials.

We gather he sleeps little.

The D.C. work includes his role as a leader of the Gulf of Maine Restoration & Conservation Initiative, a push to make the Gulf of Maine a part of the America's Great Waters ecosystem programs.

Okay, already I sense even dedicated enviros mentally wondering how they can crawl to the nearest coffeehouse. Do not drive or operate heavy equipment after reading the previous sentences. But hang in there -- the next step involves big money and I'll name-drop Obama.

Last month, President Obama appropriated $641 million for implementation of restoration plans in the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay and several other systems. The Gulf of Maine was not among those honored with funding, and locals suspect it's because the region does not have a "go-to agency" -- or that Sen. Snowe didn't know somebody was loosening purse strings.

In a letter to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, signed by about 20 regional groups, the Initiative noted a Congressional report urging the EPA to "undertake a study of pollution and water quality issues in the Gulf of Maine with the assistance of regional stakeholders to determine whether a comprehensive plan should be developed for this region."

Say what? Whether a plan should be developed? Study issues? We have been studying issues for years. We have your plan right here.

In what amounts to a smack-down in the genteel word of such things, the letter responds to the urging: (To Administrator Jackson) "You may know that for nearly a year diverse stakeholders in the Gulf of Maine, including state and federal agencies, the NGO (non-governmental organizations), and business interests have been working together to create a comprehensive restoration and conservation plan ... In an effort to capitalize on the past work and move forward, we in the Gulf of Maine believe further study is not necessary but instead are poised to work with the Environmental Protection Agency starting today to implement the next phase -- the Gulf of Maine Restoration and Conservation Plan."

Translation: No way we should have been left out, you don't even know that we've done the work some committee directed us to do, and let's get on with it.

And did we mention we're from Maine? Maybe you've heard of our senators? They are rumored to have some clout around Congress.

Okay, if you're of a certain political mindset, the idea of a new "comprehensive plan" sends shivers up your spine, in a bad way. But this effort more or less mirrors efforts for other large watersheds, and the emphasis is on building from existing groups -- really, packaging an array of existing efforts under an umbrella that will get us included in future Great Waters funding.

Let's see -- a large bureaucracy, a coalition of two dozen groups, a huge effort to preserve one of nature's great watersheds, and oh yeah we'll have to include Canada sooner or later.

Mr. Alexander may need to plug in an amp on this one, but it's a heck of a tune.

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