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Report

The Broad Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes

John C. Austin, Paul N. Courant, Robert E. Litan, and Soren Anderson

The Great Lakes are one of America’s most important—and often-overlooked—natural features. Together, they account for 90 percent of the United States’ and 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. The Great Lakes also directly impact the lives of the roughly 35 million people who live in the cities, states, and Canadian provinces surrounding them, providing drinking water and recreation, commercial transportation, and both tangible and intangible quality of life benefits.

However, the Great Lakes and surrounding areas face numerous threats to their health and utility. This report summarizes the major findings of a more in-depth study—”America’s North Coast: A Benefit-Cost Analysis of a Program to Protect and Restore the Great Lakes” (pdf)—of the benefits and costs of the federal-state Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) Strategy by the same authors. It begins by outlining the major elements of the restoration strategy, and the costs of cleaning and preserving the Great Lakes ecosystem. It then describes the results of a rigorous analysis of the GLRC Strategy, highlighting the economic benefits of its implementation. The report concludes by discussing the policy implications of this analysis, arguing that, because the restoration plan outlined in the GLRC Strategy is likely to produce economic benefits well in excess of its costs, federal and state policy makers should act on its recommendations.

Authors

Robert E. Litan

Former Brookings Expert

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

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