WASHINGTON, DC – President Donald Trump has signed into law a provision authored by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to establish a U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise (NCOE) for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes NCOE will examine the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and help develop effective responses. Current oil spill response technologies are primarily designed for saltwater environments. Last year, the then-Commandant of the Coast Guard told Peters at a hearing that the agency was not prepared for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, saying that more science and research must be done. Peters’ provision was signed into law as part of broader Coast Guard legislation and he serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.
“An oil spill in the Great Lakes would be detrimental to our economy, our environment and our drinking water, and I was alarmed to hear that current technology is insufficient to clean up an oil spill in one of our most precious natural resources,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “The new Coast Guard Great Lakes Center of Expertise will build upon the good work already happening in Michigan to further advance research, development and testing of freshwater oil spill response equipment and protect the Great Lakes for generations to come.”
“I appreciate the support of Sen. Peters for this bipartisan legislation, which includes a provision he championed to establish a Great Lakes Center for Expertise. The Center for Expertise will study and provide valuable insight into freshwater oil spill response efforts and other critical environmental issues affecting the Great Lakes region,” said Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Peters’ provision directs the NCOE for Great Lakes Oil Spill Preparedness and Response to be located near critical crude oil pipeline infrastructure in the Great Lakes and at an institution of higher education that has already has aquatic research facilities and expertise on Great Lakes water resources. Coast Guard NCOEs focus on different aspects of the Coast Guard’s marine safety mission, including liquefied natural gas transport, the outer continental shelf, towing vessels and investigations among others.
Among other issues, the COE will:
- Identify gaps in Great Lakes oil spill research, including an assessment of major scientific or technological deficiencies in responses to past spills in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies, and seek to fill those gaps;
- Monitor and assess the current state of knowledge regarding freshwater oil spill response technologies and the behavior and effects of oil spills in the Great Lakes;
- Conduct research, development, testing, and evaluation for freshwater oil spill response equipment, technologies, and techniques to mitigate and respond to oil spills in the Great Lakes;
- Help train first responders on the federal, state and local level on the incident command structure system and response technologies and strategies; and
- Work with academic and the private sector to develop and standardize maritime oil spill response training.
This legislation builds on Senator Peters’ efforts to improve oversight of pipeline operations in the Great Lakes. Earlier this year, Peters held a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing in Traverse City on Line 5 that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Last Congress, Peters helped pass bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the federal agency overseeing pipeline safety, which included provisions designating the Great Lakes an unusually sensitive area, subjecting the Great Lakes basin to higher standards for safe pipeline operation, and improving oil spill response plans to address ice cover.