Environment could shape the border of the future



The Washington-based Brookings Institute has put forward a set of ambitious goals for redefining and implementing a U.S.-Canada Border of the Future that would help redevelop North America’s freshwater coast; realize bi-national Great Lakes carbon goals and renewable energy standards; and by 2030 create a common market for commerce and human capital.

In a March 13, 2008 report The Vital Connection: Reclaiming Great Lakes Economic Leadership in the Bi-National US-Canadian Region, researchers from the Brookings Institute’s Great Lakes Economic Initiative for the Metropolitan Policy Program, argue that bi-national Great Lakes region can serve as a model of what economic regions could look like in the global economy,

To realize this vision, however, leadership and purposeful actions that acknowledge the unique opportunities provided by the Great Lakes economy are required to forge new relationships for economic and social innovation.

The report’s authors propose that by 2010 a Bi-National Innovation Fund and Strategy be implemented to accelerate needed technology development and talent generation by explicitly investing in programs that support research and innovation in the Great Lakes region.

Such a fund would overcome the natural and understandable barriers to university and institutional communication and network-building resulting from the split of the Great Lakes economy between two countries. Breaking these barriers would allow both nations to harvest the economic benefits of shared research capacities, particularly in areas of national priority in which the Great Lakes region has 'expertise and critical mass of public-private research horsepower', including:

  • Next-generation Energy Technologies. Such an effort can spend and maximize energy technology development through a network of energy Discovery Innovation Institutes (DIIS) in the region;
  • Freshwater research, management and technology policy, including ocean, Great Lakes, coastal and atmospheric science and research, which has international policy implications and in which the Great Lakes region can excel.

With respect to the redevelopment of North America’s freshwater coast, the report notes that no region-wide mechanism exists for developing and coordinating investments in and promotion of the 'freshwater coast.'

'States, provinces, and localities all have parochial and unconnected economic development plans to capitalize on their waterfronts. Existing bi-national organizations charged with Great Lakes stewardship are either focused solely on water preservation or too hamstrung by their particular organizational history and politics to focus on region-wide water-based economic development. And governmental structures within each country and between the United States and Canada are not necessarily aligned to facilitate strong cross-boundary economic development planning and decision-making.'

Overcoming these impediments, the report argues, requires a politically-charged enabling authority with a mandate and sufficient resources to organize and create strong incentives for regional water-based economic development. To this end, it proposes that the next U.S. president and Canadian prime minister, with the support of Congress and Parliament, should create a Great Lakes Coast Development Authority either by:

(a) Repurposing an existing international Great Lakes-focused organization, or

(b) Creating a new authority charged with bi-national economic development planning, and with the disbursement of bi-national federal resources to support economic development.

The major responsibilities of such an authority would be to design, implement, and promote an integrated bi-national economic development strategy for the Great Lakes 'freshwater coast' including:

  • Facilitating cross-state and provincial collaboration by state/provincial economic development, tourism, and cultural/historical agencies in the marketing and promotion of the 'freshwater coast' and its waterways, forests, parks, historical sites, cultural institutions, and natural scenic assets;
  • Promoting in-state/province and cross-state/province policies to expand public access to the shoreline and to invest in the acquisition, maintenance, and enhancement of natural and recreational areas as key components of economic development;
  • Planning support and resources for water-based reclamation (e.g. brownfield cleanup, water/sewer infrastructure, waterfront infrastructures (like ports, marinas, public access with private development) and related development strategies crossing state, provincial, and international boundaries;
  • Supporting integrated public-private and philanthropic-sponsored land acquisition, economic development, natural and scenic environmental amenity development, and tourism;
  • Facilitating bi-national economic development and business organizations /consortia to aid business leadership organizations/chambers of commerce to market the quality of life and the business locational advantages of the Great Lakes region on both sides of the border; and
  • Bringing together economic development planning interests in the region with border, homeland security, and transportation/infrastructure planning issues.

The Authority should include an information arm-a Great Lakes Border Policy Institute-that could continually track and analyze data on the cross-border flow of goods, traffic, and people, and be a forum for informed policy debate, discussion, and policy development concerning trade and border management.

A second important ingredient in leveraging the economic power of the Great Lakes is region-wide ecosystem protection and restoration, argues the report, which in turn demands a bi-national effort encompassing the entire water system through to the St Lawrence. Regional collaboration is required to act on a bi-national set of priorities for Great Lakes-St Lawrence restoration with specific recommendations for actions, investments, and projects that:

  • Reduce non-point contaminant sources through protection of key wetlands and other buffer areas;
  • Reduce toxic pollution from mercury, PCBs dioxins, etc.; and
  • Preserve important habitats and enhance conservation of unique places, bird, fish and wildlife habitats.

A third environment-related dimension of the new Canada-US relationship (and border) in the Great Lakes region proposed by the Brookings Institute relates to our mutual interests with respect to carbon goals and renewable energy standards.

It is in the economic interests of the Great Lakes region to meet and or exceed these standards the report argues, not only to protect the unique freshwater resource of the Great Lakes, but also to spur the development of 'new green and sustainable technologies, products, and services that will create new markets and new jobs.'

The region has an unprecedented opportunity to build on its strong manufacturing, chemical, transportation, energy, construction, and related industries, and compete in the green innovation race state the report’s authors.

But to establish leadership in new energy technologies and global warming remediation, the Great Lakes states and provinces will have to:

  • Extend the agreement begun by the Midwest Governors to the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, joining together to develop 25 percent of electrical power and 25 percent of transportation fuel from renewable energy sources by 2025.
  • Articulate and develop clear regional standards and support a bi-national cap and trade system for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

'Under a cap and trade system, states could sell their surplus carbon credits, which if put into energy technology research and development, infrastructure improvements, and education could further fuel the transformation of the region,' says the report.

Without providing much detail on the rationale to support the final conclusion, the report calls for a new 'Border of the Future' by 2030 that would lead to a Common Market for Commerce and Human Capital that in turn would:

  • Create a world-envied dynamic and flexible marketplace for education and labor market mobility;
  • Acknowledge and support the highly interconnected reality of the region’s firms, supply chains, and employment opportunities; and
  • Capitalize on the region as a world center for 'high-quality, low-cost' education and lifelong learning.

All this would contribute to greater individual opportunity, labor flexibility and adaptability, and economic productivity in the region, the report concludes. It also suggests that any fear that a movement toward EU-style integration in North America would diminish sovereignty must be countered by appreciation of the economic, security, and quality of life benefits of closer 'collaboration between people and populations disposed to rightfully trust each other.'

Only the U.S. president and Congress, along with the Canadian prime minister and Parliament, can promote a true understanding of the economic opportunities to be realized, concludes the report.

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