Peters Announces Legislation to Strengthen Pipeline Safety, Protect Great Lakes for Future Generations

Bill Would Improve Federal Pipeline Safety and Response Efforts to Protect Great Lakes from Potential Oil Spills That Would Be Detrimental to Environment and Economy

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today introduced legislation to protect the Great Lakes for future generations – by implementing commonsense, proactive reforms to strengthen federal pipeline safety and oil spill response efforts. The Preventing Releases of Toxic Environmental Contaminants Threatening (PROTECT) Our Great Lakes Act would take a number of steps to enable federal agencies overseeing pipeline safety to more quickly and effectively respond to potential oil spills on the Great Lakes and elsewhere by implementing key reforms.

“The Great Lakes are not only an ecological treasure and invaluable source of freshwater – they also serve as a robust engine of economic growth and job creation for local economies across our state,” said Senator Peters. “We must do everything we can to protect them from potential oil spills that would have catastrophic impacts on our environment and way of life in Michigan – especially if a spill occurred near the Straits of Mackinac. That’s why I am introducing this commonsense legislation to ensure our federal agencies are equipped to swiftly and effectively take action in the event of a spill – and build a more competitive workforce to bolster efforts in the long-run.”

The legislation would:

  • Improve Monitoring Technology in the Great Lakes: The legislation would require pipelines in high-consequence – or environmentally or ecologically sensitive – areas to use the best monitoring technology available to better ensure the immediate shutdown of a pipeline in the event of a leak. This would apply to the Great Lakes, which was designated a high-consequence area thanks to a Peters provision that was previously signed into law.
  • Better Detect and Prepare Against Diluted Bitumen Spills: The bill would also enable the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to more effectively anticipate and prepare adequate responses to potential spills of diluted bitumen, thereby preventing spills similar to the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010, which was the most expensive oil pipeline break in the history of our country and had detrimental impacts on surrounding ecosystems and environment.
  • Strengthen PHMSA’s Ability to Retain Talent: The bill would allow PHMSA to set higher pay rates for employees in certain positions based on their locality or level of experience. This would help the agency retain and attract talent to better compete with the private sector. 
  • Help Secure External Funding for the Great Lakes Center of Expertise for Oil Spill Preparedness and Response: Lastly, the bill would expand funding opportunities for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by authorizing the agency to receive and use funds from external sources to conduct research related to the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments, such as the work that will be conducted by the Great Lakes Center of Expertise for Oil Spill Preparedness and Response that Peters established through legislation in 2018. Last year, Peters announced that the Center will be headquartered in Michigan with locations in Sault Ste. Marie and Ann Arbor.

“As Congress considers legislation to improve pipeline safety, we’re grateful for the opportunity to work with Senator Peters and his colleagues to help enhance the tools we have to improve pipeline safety oversight,” said Tristan Brown, Deputy Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“The Pipeline Safety Trust applauds Senator Peters for introducing a bill that would help keep people and our treasured places safer from pipeline spills and failures,” said Bill Caram, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. “We’re thrilled to see greater flexibility for PHMSA to be able to attract and recruit pipeline safety talent, improvements to spill response requirements in the case of destructive dilbit spills, and requiring operators to use better technology to detect and respond to spills and failures more effectively. These measures are long overdue and we thank Senator Peters for addressing them.”

“The people of Michigan know the consequences of shoddy pipeline operations and oversight, having experienced one of the worst oil spills in our country’s history from Enbridge’s catastrophic oil spill failure in the Kalamazoo River,” said Bentley Johnson, Federal Government Affairs Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Senator Peters continues to advance critical pipeline safety measures to help prevent another oil disaster – and we applaud this new bill which will help protect our most precious natural resource — the Great Lakes and the source of our drinking water for millions of people.”

“Enbridge’s 2010 diluted bitumen oil spill into the Kalamazoo River was a devastating failure of pipeline operation and oversight, including Enbridge’s spill response which failed to consider the toxicity and behavior of the product, making the spill much worse,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes Freshwater Campaigns Manager for the National Wildlife Federation. “We thank Senator Peters for his continued leadership to protect our Great Lakes, wildlife and communities from aging and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure.”

“Protecting the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland waters will always be at the heart of the MEC’s mission,” said Charlotte Jameson, Chief Policy Officer of the Michigan Environmental Council. “We thank Senator Peters for putting forth this bill that will support this work – by helping to ensure the Great Lakes are better protected in the event of an oil spill or pipeline rupture, which would be absolutely devastating to the environment, and the businesses and communities that depend on it. We are grateful for Senator Peters’ leadership on this issue and for taking proactive action to ensure federal responses to a potential spill are immediate and effective.” 

“Senator Peters is once again leading the fight to protect the Great Lakes, their waterways, and the ecosystems they depend on against a potential oil spill,” said Christy McGillivray, Political and Legislative Director of the Michigan Chapter Sierra Club. “Sierra Club supports Senator Peters’ legislation and will work to get it to President Biden’s desk to help prevent a catastrophic spill in the Great Lakes, while strengthening our ability to quickly and effectively respond.”

“While Enbridge continues to violate Michigan's sovereignty by operating their Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, we must do everything we can to prepare for a Great Lakes oil spill,” said Sean McBrearty, Legislative and Policy Director for Clean Water Action. “These bills should be passed immediately – they will provide critical tools for stronger oversight as long as the threat of a major oil spill in the Great Lakes exists.”

“Those of us who live and work in Southwest Michigan learned everything we need to know about the dangers of oil pipelines when over one million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Under current law, the social, economic, and environmental costs of pipeline operation too often remain out of sight and out of mind until it’s too late,” said Carrie Yunker, Executive Vice President of Bell’s Brewery. “The Great Lakes Business Network and Bell’s Brewery strongly support the goal of strengthening pipeline oversight, and we welcome Senator Peters’ bill to require transparency from Michigan operators like Enbridge about the harm their pipelines can cause for people and our planet. We look forward to working with Sen. Peters to protect our water and communities from aging and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, and we thank him for his continued leadership.”

“From agriculture to commerce to fishing and boating – the Great Lakes are deeply intertwined with the treaty rights of our people,” said Regina Gasco-Bentley, Tribal Chairperson of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. “We applaud Senator Peters for his continued efforts to protect the Great Lakes by all means possible, including to strengthen pipeline safety and preparedness against a potential oil spill. A spill in the Straits of Mackinac would be particularly devastating to our communities and way of life in Michigan – and we hope to see Senator Peters’ legislation passed into law to help prevent that from ever happening.”

“Remember Enbridge’s Kalamazoo disaster? Michiganders do. And so does Senator Peters who is wisely introducing legislation to strengthen pipeline regulation to prevent catastrophic oil spill disasters in our water, air, and land,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of For Love of Water (FLOW), a Traverse City-based non-profit organization aimed at protecting the Great Lakes and their waters. 

Peters’ Preventing Releases of Toxic Environmental Contaminants Threatening (PROTECT) Our Great Lakes Act builds on his long record of working to strengthen the Great Lakes for future generations of Michiganders. In 2019, Peters secured a bipartisan provision that was signed into law as part of the year-end funding bill to provide the first increase in GLRI funding since the program was established a decade ago. To build on that progress, Peters’ supported the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, which included $1 billion for the GLRI – a historic investment and largest amount of funding provided for the program to date. Additionally, Peters’ bipartisan bill to update the Environmental Sensitivity Maps for the Great Lakes was signed into law last year. These new maps will provide more accurate assessments of coastal resources that are at risk of severe damage or a natural disaster, including endangered and threatened species, sensitive shoreline habitats, and widely used community resources such as beaches, parks and boat ramps.