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Peters Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Icebreaking Capacity in the Great Lakes

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Peters (MI) introduced the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, bipartisan legislation that will codify the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes and increase the icebreaking capacity of the Great Lakes fleet. Icebreaking is critical for commerce in the Great Lakes, and increasing icebreaking capacity will help the many businesses and workers that rely on the maritime industry to transport their goods to market and grow our regional economy. Peters introduced the legislation with U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Todd Young (R-IN).

“Icebreaking in the Great Lakes is critical not just for Michigan’s economy and small business – but for our entire country. As we gear up for another winter, the importance of icebreaking is more vital than ever given the economic crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Senator Peters. “I’m pleased to join my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to prioritize icebreaking in the Great Lakes and ensure safe trade and commerce.”

“Inadequate icebreaking capacity in the Great Lakes is costing us thousands of American jobs and millions in business revenue. We must boost our icebreaking capacity in the Great Lakes to keep our maritime commerce moving,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to partner with Senators Young and Peters on this bipartisan effort that will move our region closer to getting the sufficient icebreaking resources needed to support our maritime industry, mitigate devastating climate-related events and protect our Great Lakes for generations to come. I will keep working with my colleagues to get this job done for Wisconsin businesses and workers.”

“In recent years, commerce on the Great Lakes has suffered due to a lack of icebreaking during cold weather months,” said Senator Young. “Roughly 28% of our nation’s annual economic output comes from the Great Lakes region, and our legislation will enable us to expand capacity to ship goods, create jobs, and strengthen the economy in Indiana and other Great Lake states.”

Icebreaking capacity in the Great Lakes supports more than 90 million tons of cargo annually. A study commissioned by the Lake Carriers’ Association found that during the 2018-2019 ice-season, businesses that depend upon the Great Lakes maritime industry lost over $1 billion in revenues because of delays caused by inadequate icebreaking. These economic losses resulted in the loss of over 5,000 jobs throughout the Great Lakes Region.

This bipartisan bill would update the outdated U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Great Lakes icebreaking mission and increase the icebreaking capacity of the Great Lakes fleet. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Codifies into law the USCG’s icebreaking mission in the Great Lakes. Requires the USCG to break ice in the Great Lakes in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce set forth in the bill. The standards derive from a 1997 Coast Guard study outlining icebreaking requirements on the Great Lakes. They are written to allow the USCG to size its icebreaker fleet to be capable of handling the vast majority of ice seasons while limiting excess capacity. The bill includes a one-time report on the operating costs associated with this new performance standard.
  • Requires USCG to report to Congress on the icebreaking season. Requires an annual report of USCG activities during the previous winter’s icebreaking activities.
  • Requires USCG to coordinate with industry for icebreaking operations.
  • Requires the USCG to prioritize domestic icebreaking mission before breaking ice for Canadian harbors or bays, but allows for exceptions for missions related to safety of life.
  • Defines “reasonable demands of commerce.” “The safe movement of commercial vessels transiting ice-covered waterways in the Great Lakes at a speed consistent with the design capability of Coast Guard icebreakers operating in the Great Lakes.”

“The Great Lakes are a vital resource for Cheboygan. Having a strong icebreaking presence in the winter months is so important for our community to continue its business,” said Tom Eustice, City Manager, Cheboygan, MI. “This bill will prioritize Great Lakes commerce for port cities across the Great Lakes – and that’s good not just for Michigan, for our country. I thank Senator Peters for his support of this bipartisan bill.”

“Keeping our shipping channels open year-round benefits all of Michigan,” said Stacie Bytwork, Chairperson, Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “Our economy can’t afford to lose out on the winter season. Moving iron ore from the U.P. down to Southeast Michigan is critical in keeping our automotive industry going. This isn’t just a northern Michigan issue – shipping year-round is good for all of Michigan.”

“This historic bill will codify into law a long time Coast Guard mission that protects national and economic security. It provides Congressional direction and performance metrics. Currently, the Coast Guard interprets the ‘reasonable demands of commerce’ as meaning that an ice covered waterway is open until a second vessel is stuck in the ice for more than twenty-four hours as a result of another vessel’s inability to move. They only report to Congress ice restrictions in four connecting channels for the entire Great Lakes,” said Jim Weakley, President of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

“For too many years, inadequate icebreaking has unnecessarily risked the lives of sailors. Ships have been forced into collisions and groundings or have been sliced open by ice because no Coast Guard icebreakers were available to assist. The bill respects those risking their lives to keep our economy moving during the winter,” said John Clemons, Vice President of the Great Lakes Maritime Task force and American Maritime Officers Union National Vice President, Great Lakes.

“This has been a priority for the Great Lake Maritime Task Force for a decade and we welcome the bill’s introduction. Just like we plow our roads, we need to keep traffic moving on our maritime highways,” said Richard Hammer, President of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force and General Manager of Donjon Shipbuilding.

“This bill supports jobs across the Great Lakes and the nation. It comes at a critical time as ports continue to move cargo vital to the economic recovery. Now, more than ever, predictable and dependable icebreaking is needed to ensure cargo can continue to move efficiently. It would be devastating to have another winter like 2019 when the economy lost $1 Billion and more than 5,000 jobs due to inadequate icebreaking,” said Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

Organizations endorsing the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act include the Lake Carriers’ Association, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, American Great Lakes Ports Association, American Maritime Congress, American Maritime Officers, American Maritime Officers Service, Andrie, Carmeuse, Cleveland-Cliffs, Detroit Wayne County Port Authority, Grand River Navigation, Great Lakes Towing Company, Inland Lakes Management, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers Lodge 60, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Longshoremen’s Association, International Shipmasters Association, Kokosing Industrial, LafargeHolcim, Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Lakes Pilots Association, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, Masters Mates and Pilots Union, MCM Dredging, Michigan Maritime Trades Port Council, Pere Marquette Shipping Company, Port City Marine Services, Port of Cheboygan, Ryba Marine, Seafarers International Union, Soo Marine Supply, The American Waterways Operators (AWO), Transportation Institute, VanEnkevort Tug and the Western Great Lakes Pilots Association.

Peters has long been pushing for a new icebreaker to be included in the Coast Guard’s Great Lakes fleet. He helped secure the initial authorization of the design and construction of a Great Lakes icebreaker and worked to prevent the Trump Administration’s cuts to the Coast Guard’s budget, which could have jeopardized progress for an icebreaker. For years, the Coast Guard has not created a plan to proceed on an icebreaker even though they have had the authority to do so, citing limited resources as the setback. Last year, Peters helped to secure resources for both the design as well as the planning office.