Senate committee approves legislation to update Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps for Great Lakes

Published: Aug. 2, 2017 at 2:44 PM EDT
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The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Todd Young (R-IN) to update the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes.

ESI maps are used to assess coastal resources that could be at risk in the event of an oil spill or natural disaster, including endangered and threatened species, sensitive shoreline habitats, and human-use resources like beaches, parks and boat ramps. The Great Lakes region ESI maps have not been updated since between 1985 and 1994, though maps for the East coast, West coast, and Gulf coast have seen updates within the last five years.

“The Great Lakes not only facilitate commerce and drive economic activity for much of the country, they also serve as a vital source of drinking water for more than 40 million people,” said Senator Peters. “I’m pleased the Commerce Committee approved this bipartisan legislation to ensure that our valuable coastal resources are adequately inventoried so we can prioritize response plans and protect critical resources in the worst-case scenario of an oil spill or other disaster in the Great Lakes.”

“The Great Lakes are one of America’s greatest natural resources. They are a treasured resource to the numerous Hoosier families who frequent them. It is in all of our interests to robustly protect them,” said Senator Young. “I am glad that my colleagues on the Commerce Committee voted to approve legislation to update the ESI maps which will allow us to better protect our natural resources and effectively respond in the event of a natural disaster.”

ESI maps, which are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are used to document the potential ecological impacts to natural and human-use resources from risks such as oil spills, natural disasters, and resource damage assessments. The maps are also used in disaster planning and recovery, research and restoration efforts. ESI maps must be regularly updated to ensure they are providing an accurate representation of vulnerable locations and areas that require protection in the event of a disaster. Updates would also improve the accessibility of the ESI maps by making them available in searchable formats.