Bill to update Great Lakes Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps

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U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Todd Young (R-IN) today applauded the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approval of bipartisan legislation they reintroduced to update the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes.

The legislation would require 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.

It would additionally require periodic Great Lakes mapping updates. 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.

The bill now moves to the full U.S. Senate for consideration. Bipartisan companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Dan Kildee (MI-05), Bill Huizenga (MI-02), Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and David Joyce (OH-14).

“Not being fully prepared to respond to a potential disaster on the Great Lakes threatens a vital economic driver and a treasured environmental resource,” said Senator Peters, who serves on the Commerce Committee. “It is critical for not just Michigan but the entire country that protection efforts for the Great Lakes are provided the same resources and attention as the initiatives safeguarding other shorelines and major bodies of water. I am pleased that the Commerce Committee has approved this important bipartisan legislation that would equip our scientists and researchers with more of the tools and data they need to protect our Great Lakes.”

“The Great Lakes are one of America’s greatest natural resources,” said Senator Young. “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 disaster. I’m glad to see this bill advance one step closer to the finish line.”

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 last year hosted by Peters that the agency had initiated work to update the ESI maps for two specific priority areas in the Great Lakes, including the Mackinac Straits.

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.

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