Peters, Young Introduce Legislation to Update Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps for Great Lakes

Maps Help Assess Ecological Risks of Oil Spill & Natural Disaster; Great Lakes Maps Have Not Been Updated in Over 20 Years

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Todd Young (R-IN) today announced that they are introducing bipartisan legislation to update the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes to better address habitat restoration and potential ecological impacts in the event of an oil spill or a natural disaster. ESI maps provide an inventory of at risk coastal resources such as endangered and threatened species, sensitive shoreline habitats, and human-use resources like beaches, parks and boat ramps. ESI maps for the Great Lakes have not been updated in over two decades and are only available in a limited number of viewable formats, while maps of the East coast, West coast, and Gulf coast have been updated within the last five years and are available in more accessible, searchable and detailed formats.

“An oil spill in the Great Lakes would have long-term and catastrophic implications for the health of Michigan’s ecosystem and economy,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. “ESI maps can provide crucial insight into how oil spills or natural disasters can impact our environment, but unfortunately maps for the Great Lakes have not been updated in decades. I’m pleased to join Senator Young in introducing bipartisan legislation that will modernize these maps and help provide a better picture of what resources could be at risk so we can keep our Great Lakes safe and clean for future generations.”

“The Great Lakes are one of America’s greatest natural resources. Hoosier families treasure our coastline along Lake Michigan and our close proximity to all the Great Lakes. It is in all of our interests to robustly protect them. Updating the ESI maps will allow us to better protect our natural resources and effectively respond in the event of a natural disaster,” said Sen. Todd Young. “I thank Sen. Peters for his leadership and am pleased that this issue has garnered bipartisan support.”

“The Great Lakes are a vital natural resource for the entire country and an oil spill could have devastating effects for future generations,” said Molly Flanagan, Vice President of Policy for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “This bipartisan legislation will provide needed upgrades to ESI maps to include important information on the impact of an oil spill in the Great Lakes. We applaud Senators Peters and Young’s efforts to protect the Great Lakes so future generations can enjoy and benefit from this bountiful national resource

“Our local economies across the Great Lakes are dependent on human-use resources like marinas and beaches. Recreational boaters and tourists to Charlevoix keep businesses like mine afloat and provide jobs for my employees - 'pure' water is the major reason tourism is such a significant component of this region’s economy,” said Rich Bergman, owner of Lake Charlevoix Brewing Company and member of the Great Lakes Business Network. “With threats like Line 5 in the Great Lakes, it’s critical that our responders have updated mapping technology to respond quickly when there’s an oil spill.”

“Mapping our most sensitive biological resources is critical to protecting our Great Lakes wildlife and their habitats in the event of an oil spill, especially for threatened and endangered species and spawning beds for anadromous sport fish like steelhead,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation.

“There are over 10,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, equal to 44% of the circumference of the earth,” said Larry Bell, owner of Bell’s Brewery and a member of the Great Lakes Business Network. “Updating our maps of the most sensitive shorelines will help responders prioritize their resources for a quick response if there’s an oil spill in the Great Lakes like we had in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.”

“Accurate and up-to-date data is essential for coastal management and the Coastal States Organization supports Senator Peters’ efforts to modernize the maps, tools, and products needed for the Great Lakes states,” said Grant Williams, Legislative Representative, Coastal States Organization.

The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups, including the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Charter Boat Association, the National Wildlife Federation, the Coastal States Organization, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and For Love of Water (FLOW).

ESI maps, which are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are used to document the potential ecological impacts for a range of risks to natural resources including oil spills, natural disaster planning and recovery, research, resource damage assessments, and restoration. An up-to-date ESI is necessary to correctly identify vulnerable locations and prioritize areas for protection in the event of a disaster. ESI maps in the Great Lakes have not been updated since between 1985 and 1994, depending on location.