Protecting the Great Lakes and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The Trump administration is proposing to allow offshore oil drilling and cut down the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. We can’t afford to spoil the Great Lakes.

This guest post is part of the Traverse Magazine series “For Land and Water.” Subscribe for more about environmental preservation efforts in our communities.


The Great Lakes are our great natural treasure. This is where Midwesterners live, work and play. Protecting the Great Lakes has strong bipartisan support. Safe clean drinking water is not partisan at all. We all care—a lot.

President Trump won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but his policies are puzzling in light of Michiganders’ clean water priorities. His administration is proposing to allow offshore oil drilling and cut down the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena-to-Mackinaw City shoreline. His proposed budget slashes the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million to zero. The EPA is rolling back common sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water.

These are headscratchers, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders and by business, civic and environmental groups alike.

Governor Snyder, both senators and 13 of 14 Michigan representatives are urging President Trump to reverse course.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, provide drinking water for 42 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species, support the $7 billion fishing industry, and offer recreational opportunities for millions of people.

Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. Michiganders recognize this remarkable value. We can’t afford to spoil the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a review for reducing the size of, and allowing offshore oil drilling in, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron.

Thunder Bay protects a treasure trove of 100 significant shipwrecks. Following participatory stakeholder processes in 2014, this National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 448 to 4,300 square miles.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore Shipwreck Alley and offers a window into Great Lakes maritime history. The sanctuary is not controversial. It’s America’s only fresh water Marine Sanctuary.

Federal law and Michigan law prohibit offshore oil drilling in the Great Lakes. The Commerce Department’s review is puzzling.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is leading the charge to protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Our joint comments submitted with 14 Great Lakes groups explained why this popular National Marine Sanctuary must not be chopped.

Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and bipartisan Representatives Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Daniel Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Dave Trott and Fred Upton sent a joint letter to the Commerce Department expressing …

“[S]trong opposition to reducing the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary … The expansion of this sanctuary in Lake Huron in 2014, which was the result of a rigorous approval process with extensive public input, is critical to Michigan’s economy and heritage. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has helped revitalize local economies in our state.”

Let’s protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and preserve this historical maritime site today and for future generations. That’s good for jobs, economic growth and the environment.

Just as puzzling, the administration’s proposed FY2018 budget eliminates funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Governor Snyder, both senators and 13 of 14 Michigan representatives are urging President Trump to reverse course. They understand that this practical program has supported over 3,000 projects— including the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Management Initiative—to keep the lakes clean, preserve shorelines, restore wetlands and watersheds, and protect safe clean drinking water.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved full funding of $300 million for FY2018. Let’s hope that’s the turning point. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative should gain full support this year and in future budgets.

Most Michiganders understand that pollution upstream or next door can contaminate their drinking water. We like swimming in clean lakes and enjoy playing on nice beaches.

Good policy is good politics. Protecting the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water is a battle well worth fighting and winning, but it shouldn’t have to be fought. The public and most political leaders know better.

Howard A. Learner is the Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental advocacy and economic development organization.


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Article Comments

  • Elaine Higden

    This article is an important read and it is not only important for Michiganders to read. We cannot ignore this as our state and

  • Elaine Higden

    …the federal government have ignored the Enbridge oil spill and the Asian Carp invasion. This issue needs to be written about in the Detroit Free Press, The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, and Time as well as on Slate.com and Politico. It needs to be discussed on CBS and NBC news as well as PBS, NPR, CNN and MSNBC. People need to take this seriously. PBS needs to lose the Koch brothers as contributors, bring NOVA back, and let the Discovery Channel be the host of bland, so-called science shows.