Oil spills on the California coast and dangerous industrial spills right here in Lake Michigan represent ongoing and irreversible damage to our drinking water, our food chain, our community’s health, wildlife and economy.
This week, the Great Lakes saw two large-scale industrial spills into Lake Michigan in addition to numerous earlier spills over the past years. The Indiana U.S. Steel facility has twice contaminated the lake, the latest happening just last Thursday when their spill resulted in an oil sheen at Burns Waterway in Portage, Ind. Both spills interrupted the processing of drinking water for thousands and forced the closure of nearby national park beaches. For their first transgression, U.S. Steel was fined $1.2 million by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Water Act and polluting Lake Michigan – however financial penalties do not reverse the damage that has already occurred.
At the same time, Governor Whitmer and the State of Michigan are continuing their effort to protect the Great Lakes from potentially disastrous impacts of the Line 5 pipeline, which could risk an oil spill in the Great Lakes, putting families and small businesses across the region at risk.
Similar to U.S. Steel, the Line 5 owner, Enbridge, has a troubling environmental record. For example, when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2010, it resulted in one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history, dumping 1 million gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The spill damaged critically important wetlands that are home to several species of threatened aquatic wildlife. Most recently, Enbridge is pushing to store high-level radioactive nuclear waste near Lake Huron.
It is time to prioritize protecting the integrity of our Great Lakes over the waste and harm caused by aging last-century infrastructure. To do so, we must stop the far too frequent industrial spills of oil and other dangerous pollutants that threaten our waterways.
We stand with our colleagues in California in calling for the end of dangerous offshore oil and gas development whether in the Great Lakes or off our ocean coasts. To that end, we urge Congress to use the budget reconciliation process to not only ban new federal offshore oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development, but also to support a rapid, just, and equitable transition from offshore oil and gas to clean, renewable energy development like wind, tidal and wave energy.
The Great Lakes are over 20% of all freshwater available in the world. There is no alternative to this life-sustaining force – if we damage it, it is gone forever. Over 40 million people need the Great Lakes for their drinking water, hydration for crops. They are the home for our freshwater fisheries and support more than 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in wages annually.
Now is the time to act to protect the biodiversity of our blue planet's ocean and Great Lake coast for generations to come.
-Andrea Densham, senior director of government affairs & conservation policy at Shedd Aquarium