Front and Center: Can't we all just get along? Disagreements on St. Lawrence

June 24, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(Flickr/Susan Novak)
Brian Mann has been traveling the St. Lawrence Seaway for the series 'Front and Center.'

The Seaway faces some huge challenges, from invasive species to climate change.  But the complicated web of government agencies in the U.S. and Canada has slowed efforts at making big reforms.

In Montreal this week there was a meeting of the top environment officials from Canada and the US.  They discussed the various regulations across state and national borders, which don’t always align. The head of Canada’s Environment Ministry,  Peter Kent said, “We sometimes get ahead of one-another and have to find ways to effectively blend and align our regulations.”

It’s not just environmental policy issues that the two countries negotiate. Trade issues and international politics all get tangled up in decisions made about the Seaway and Great Lakes.

For example, hydrodams hold back the rivers. And some green groups want to use the flow from those dams to allow the river to fluctuate in a more natural way that would help restore shoreline habitats. Upstream towns in New York and Ontario also want more water held behind the big hydro dams during the summer for water recreation. But those ideas were vetoed by Quebec which wants high and stead levels for the shipping industry.

In addition to navigating different economic and political interests, there are also cultural differences to navigate, huge divides in how different groups view the river. The U.S. has a more developed and aggressive environmental movement than Canada, and green groups are a big part of the social fabric. On the Canadian side, first nations groups, such as the Mohawks and the Metis, shape the debate more.

Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. EPA said that business is way ahead of government in thinking about how these negotiations should occur across borders, she said, “Our industries really are almost blind with respect to the border. That’s the kind of thing we’re going to have to do if we’re going to be leaders and move our continent forward.  So I think there are still opportunities there.  That doesn’t mean that some of our disagreements or our challenges are going to go away overnight.”