DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ (MI) bipartisan legislation to update the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes was signed into law by President Trump. The bill, which Peters 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 vital to our nation – from providing drinking water to millions of people to being an economic engine for communities across Michigan,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Efforts to protect the Great Lakes should be considered just as critical as projects to safeguard other major bodies of water and shorelines. I’m pleased that this bipartisan legislation is now law, because it will help provide scientists and researchers the resources needed to protect our Great Lakes.”
“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. “Now that our bill has been signed into law, 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.”
“Representing 118 miles of beautiful Lake Huron shoreline, I am proud to see this bipartisan bill to protect the Great Lakes signed into law,” said Congressman Kildee. “The Great Lakes generate billions of dollars in economic activity and provide drinking water for over 40 million people. We must protect our Great Lakes from harm, including being ready to respond to emergencies like oil spills or natural disasters.”
“The Great Lakes sensitivity maps provide critical information for organizations like ours assisting coastal communities with adapting, protecting and restoring our shorelines in the face of record high lake levels, more severe storm events and unprecedented infrastructure damage,” said Carl Lindquist, Executive Director, Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy. “Effective planning tools such as these maps are the first defense in protecting the Great Lakes, and we are very grateful for Senator Peters’ leadership in authoring and enacting this much-needed legislation.”
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 U.S. Senate. 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. Most recently, Congress included $3 million to fund the U.S. Coast Guard Center of Expertise for Great Lakes Oil Spill Preparedness and Response. The Center, which was established through a provision Peters authored and helped enact in December 2018, is responsible for examining the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and help develop effective responses. Peters also secured a provision in the bipartisan Coast Guard Reauthorization that passed with the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that directs 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.