U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D) has two big projects on his plate in an effort to strengthen protections for the Great Lakes and provide funding for the city of Flint in the wake of the water crisis.
The U.S. Senate recently gave unanimous approval to a funding bill that includes important protections for the Great Lakes. The bill re-authorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is the federal agency that oversees pipelines.
Peters joined Stateside to discuss both pieces of legislation and where they stand.
“I’ve been able to insert language that will make sure that pipes in the Great Lakes region receive the highest possibly scrutiny, the toughest regulations,” said Peters, who co-sponsored the bill. “We will classify all pipelines in the Great Lakes as a high consequence pipeline.
“The Great Lakes are not only an important resource from a recreational standpoint and a commercial standpoint, but also a source of drinking water for over 40 million people,” he added. “We need to make sure we have the toughest standards in place. That’s what this legislation will do.”
In addition, another part of the bill includes the requirement that pipeline operators need to have cleanup plans in place that would take ice cover into account. In the unfortunate event of an oil spill in the winter months, ice cover can create additional challenges for the cleanup process. Peters says this has not been considered in the past.
These regulations come on the heels of the Kalamazoo River oil spill of 2010 that remains the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history and cost more than $1 billion to clean up. Also motivating the bill is concern over the aging pipelines like Enbridge’s Line 5, a 62-year-old pipeline carrying roughly half a million barrels of oil or natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac.
“I think it highlights that we have a very aging infrastructure and as infrastructure ages, the risk of catastrophic failure goes up,” saidPeters. “We have to be in a mode where we are starting to replace these lines. If we’re going to continue to operate them, then they need to be replaced with new state-of-the-art technology. The risk is just simply too great for us to assume.”
Peters said he is confident that the bill will pass in the House.
Another source of concern is a story featured on Stateside last week as environmental groups have sounded the alarm on a 98-year-old pipeline running under the St Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario. The owner of the pipeline asked the State Department to update usage permits for the lines and the request wasn’t noticed until after the public comment period had expired.
Peters called the situation “troubling” and said he is working to get the comment period re-opened and get a thorough review of the pipeline.
Another important item on the agenda is Peters’ bill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow attempting to get $100 million in federal funding to the city of Flint. Peters said he is confident the bill will ultimately pass, but currently Utah Senator Mike Lee is holding up the process. Lee has called the bill "political grandstanding," and believes the state of Michigan should pay for the disaster, and not the federal government.
“I had a discussion with [Sen. Lee] yesterday and I believe that we’re close to having a resolution,” said Peters. “It’s just critical to move this forward. We do have strong bi-partisan support for this as well … that’s why it’s so disappointing that we just have one senator who is holding it up because that does not represent the support we have here in the Senate. We’re confident if we get it on the floor for a vote, we will be able to pass it.”
Listen to the full interview below to hear more about Peters’ effort to protect the Great Lakes and his thoughts on Bernie Sanders’ upset win over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic Primary.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Enbridge Line 5 transports liquid natural gas. That is not correct. It transports light crude and natural gas liquids.