Protecting the Great Lakes and Clean Drinking Water

Gary knows the Great Lakes are more than an economic driver and a precious natural resource: they are in the DNA of every Michigander. Simply put, Michigan wouldn’t be Michigan without a healthy and vibrant Great Lakes. That’s why, from Day 1, Gary has led efforts to protect the Great Lakes. As challenges with Michigan’s drinking water arose, Gary was on the case, from securing federal money for communities affected to pressing for strong federal action. 

Securing Historic Great Lakes Funding & Protecting Waterfront Communities

Gary led the Senate in securing the first increase in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) since the program was first established nearly a decade ago. From Traverse City to Detroit, from Baldwin to Shelby Township, Gary has seen firsthand how successful this program is. The GLRI works with local organizations on Great Lakes watershed cleanup and restoration projects. Thanks to Gary’s bipartisan effort, the GLRI in December 2019 received a record $320 million for fiscal year 2020 – a stark contrast from opposing efforts that previously worked to slash or eliminate funding altogether. Gary’s going to continue building on that success.

Gary has heard from communities across Michigan about how climate change and high water levels on the Great Lakes are causing serious damage to our shorelines and harming the livelihoods and property of Michiganders. That is why, he fought hard and passed – in January 2021 – bipartisan legislation into law that establishes low-cost loans that local governments can access to build back resiliently and help protect Michigan’s beautiful coastlines.

Improving Pipeline Safety and Oversight

In 2010, an oil spill on the Kalamazoo River became one of the largest pipeline ruptures on land in our nation’s history. A spill happening on the Great Lakes – especially around Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac – would be catastrophic to our state. Right now, however, there is a severe lack of research examining how to cleanup an oil spill in freshwater.

In response, Gary worked with Michigan experts to get signed into law in December 2018 a provision establishing a Great Lakes Center of Expertise for Freshwater Oil Spill Research and Response through the U.S. Coast Guard. The Center of Expertise will examine the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and help develop effective responses. In December 2019, Gary secured $1.5 million for the Center of Expertise to help the Coast Guard plan for and establish the Center.

Gary has also worked to improve pipeline safety and oversight. In June 2016, a bipartisan bill – called the PIPES Act that he co-authored was signed into law. The legislation included language he authored designating the Great Lakes as a high consequence area, improving oil spill response plans to address ice cover, and enhancing reviews of pipeline age and integrity. 

In August 2018, Gary led a field summit in Traverse City to discuss federal oil spill prevention efforts, preparedness and response capability in the event of an oil pipeline break in the Straits of Mackinac. This was convened after Line 5 continued operating earlier in 2018 despite an anchor strike denting the pipeline and no review of damage taking place for days after the strike happened. During that hearing, Gary secured greater transparency from Enbridge – the company operating Line 5 – and additional documentation around the anchor strike.

The 2016 PIPES Act that Gary co-authored laid the groundwork for the federal agency overseeing pipelines to implement new rules in October 2019 that will address unsafe pipeline conditions that risk harming public health and safety of the environment. While it’s encouraging that these steps and provision were signed into law, Gary knows there is still more work to be done. He will continue pressing for further action so that we can protect the Great Lakes for future generations.

In December 2020, Gary enacted bipartisan legislation to update Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps of the Great Lakes for the first time in two decades. These maps are vital to disaster planning and recovery, research and restoration efforts. It is essential that ESI maps throughout the Great Lakes are regularly updated to provide an accurate representation of vulnerable locations and areas that need protection in the event of a disaster.

Working to Address the PFAS Crisis

PFAS contamination has devastated Michiganders and communities across our state. Gary has heard firsthand from constituents about just how much exposure from these chemicals has changed their lives. That’s why he went to work for Michigan.

In August 2018, Gary passed a provision that was signed into law urging the Department of Defense to phase out its use of PFAS-laden firefighting foams. PFAS chemicals have been found at active and decommissioned military installations across Michigan that used these dangerous firefighting foams. As a result, local water sources have been contaminated and are affecting the drinking water quality for residents.

In September 2018, he helped convened the first hearing on PFAS in the Senate, assessing the federal response to contamination and remediation. He then convened a field summit in Grand Rapids in November 2018 to shine a light on how the local, state and federal governments are coordinating their response to PFAS.

In October 2018, Gary passed his provision into law allowing airports to phase out the use of firefighting foams that contain PFAS. Before Gary’s provision, airports were required to adhere to an FAA standard that was based on a Department of Defense rule that the military is actively transitioning away from. 

In April 2019, Gary hosted the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force in Oscoda to meet with residents and community leaders severely impacted by PFAS contamination and exposure. While there, Gary and the Assistant Secretary participated in a public forum, and Gary pressed the Air Force to do more clean-up. 

In December 2019, the annual national defense bill was signed into law. Included in the bill were provisions Gary led or supported, banning the Department of Defense from purchasing firefighting foams containing PFAS. The bill also immediately prohibited the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS in military training exercises, and enhanced state cooperation with the Department of Defense regarding clean-up due to PFAS contamination stemming from military-related activities.