WASHINGTON - A White House panel developing a strategy for managing oceans and their coastlines is including the Great Lakes in its plan, which will propose ways to protect the environment while preventing conflicts among users.
The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, which President Barack Obama established in June, convenes the last of six regional public meetings Thursday in Cleveland. It will be the only gathering devoted specifically to the Great Lakes.
''We understand that there are some challenges that the Great Lakes are facing that are very similar to challenges along the oceans,'' Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the task force and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a phone interview Wednesday. ''There's increasing competition for resources, the environmental stress they are under.''
The 24-member task force, comprised of officials from federal entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard, issued an interim report in September.
It recommended establishing a National Ocean Council to coordinate the federal response to problems such as pollution, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. But it was unclear about how the lakes would fit into the plan, said Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
Government agencies and advocacy groups already have a wide-ranging blueprint for cleaning up the lakes, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. A House-Senate conference committee approved $475 million Tuesday to launch the initiative, which would clean up toxic hot spots, battle invasive species and improve wildlife habitat, among other projects.