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Peters Bipartisan Bill to Update Great Lakes Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps Heads to President’s Desk to be Signed Into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ (MI) bipartisan legislation to update the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation, which he introduced with U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-IN), requires the Great Lakes Region ESI maps to be updated for the first time in over two decades, joining maps for the East coast, West coast, and Gulf coast that have been updated more recently. Companion legislation was led in the House by U.S. Representatives Dan Kildee (MI-05), Bill Huizenga (MI-02), Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and David Joyce (OH-14).

“The Great Lakes are not only a treasured environmental resource and an economic engine – they are simply in our DNA as Michiganders,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “It’s important the Great Lakes are provided the same resources and attention as other major bodies of water and shorelines. I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation is now heading to the President’s desk to be signed into law. This will help equip our scientists and researchers with more tools and data to protect our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

“I’m glad to see our bill cross the finish line to further preserve one of America’s most illustrious natural resources, the Great Lakes,” said Senator Young. “Our bill now heads to the President’s desk so that we can update the Environmental Sensitivity Index maps, better respond to natural disasters, and continue to protect the treasured Great Lakes that are so important to the Hoosier way of life.”

“I am pleased to see the Senate pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk. The Great Lakes support many Michigan jobs, generate billions of dollars in economic activity and provide drinking water for over 40 million people. We must do everything we can to protect them from harm,” Congressman Kildee said. “If an oil spill or natural disaster occurs in the Great Lakes, our emergency responders must have up-to-date maps and information in order to act quickly and effectively. I am proud to represent 118 miles of beautiful Lake Huron shoreline and in Congress, I will always work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our Great Lakes.”

This bipartisan legislation 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. Additionally, this legislation will require periodic Great Lakes mapping updates.

ESI maps, which are coordinated through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), document the potential ecological impacts to natural and human-use resources from possible oil spills, natural disasters, and resource damage assessments. The maps are vital to disaster planning and recovery, research and restoration efforts. NOAA announced at a field hearing in Traverse City in 2018 hosted by Peters that the agency updated the ESI maps for two specific priority areas in the Great Lakes, including the Mackinac Straits. Other maps in the Great Lakes, however, have not been updated in over two decades. 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. Updates would also improve the accessibility of the ESI maps by making them available in searchable formats.

This legislation is supported by the Healing our Waters Coalition, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, For Love of Water (FLOW) as well as Superior Watershed Partnership.

Peters has made protecting the Great Lakes one of his top priorities in the Senate. He secured the first increase in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative since the program was established. Peters also got signed into law a provision to establish a U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes National Center of Expertise will examine the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and help develop effective responses. Current oil spill response technologies are primarily designed for saltwater environments. Peters also secured a provision in the bipartisan Coast Guard Reauthorization that passed the Senate Commerce Committee that would direct the Coast Guard to update their oil spill pollution response plan for the area around the Straits of Mackinac to account for a potential “worst-case” spill from a pipeline in possible severe weather conditions, such as ice cover and rough seas. In response to questioning by Peters, Coast Guard officials testified that they did not have the capability to contain and cleanup a large-scale oil spill in northern Michigan if it occurred during severe weather conditions, particularly if the spill were to originate from the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.