ESCANABA - State Rep. Judy Nerat, D-Wallace, was in Escanaba Monday, calling for a ban on drilling in the Great Lakes.
Noting the Great Lakes could become the next victim of a tragic oil spill, she promoted a plan that would ban drilling here.
During Monday's visit to the Escanaba Municipal Harbor, Nerat explained how important the Great Lakes are to the economy of the state and the way of life for its residents.
"We rely on them for jobs to support our families, recreation, small businesses that drive our economy, " said Nerat. "Our waters and our wildlife define us up here in the U.P. Thousands of hard working folks depend on the health of our waters to provide for their families. We have to act now to protect and preserve the waters we treasure and that our workers and local economy rely on."
Nerat said although drilling in the Great Lakes is against state law, the Michigan Legislature or the next Michigan governor could change that at any time.
"While there is a ban in place prohibiting drilling in the Great Lakes, it is not strong enough," said Nerat. Drilling in the Great Lakes will only be prohibited in Michigan as long as our legislature sees fit to continue the prohibition," said Nerat.
According to Nerat, a plan has been proposed to the Legislature that would give Michigan voters the right to make the ban permanent by making it part of the state constitution. If the measure passes the Legislature, it would appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.
She said one reason many people selected Michigan as their place of residence is due to the Great Lakes, much the same reasons residents choose to live in the southern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Citing the recent disaster in the Gulf states, Nerat said such an oil spill in the Great Lakes would have a more disastrous affect.
"We have seen the images on TV over and over: oil soaked beaches and black water; birds, fish and plant life covered with and dripping with oil," said Nerat.
A similar accident on the Great Lakes would affect more that 3,000 miles of coastline, in addition to devastating a $7 billion fishing and $9 billion boating industry.
"This type of catastrophe would also threaten the various Great Lakes traditions we treasure, including picnics and swimming at the beach, fishing off a pier, or spending the day out on boat with the family," said Nerat.
She said for years companies such as BP have been interested in drilling for oil in the Great Lakes, simply to increase their profits.
Under current law, passed in 2002, companies caught drilling without a permit face fines of up to $1,000 per day. Companies responsible for a spill face fines of up to $25,000 per day in addition to being liable for up to $75 million in damages. If an oil spill were to occur in Michigan's Great Lakes, the company would be held 100 percent liable for the cleanup.
"With 20 percent of the world's fresh water, and 95 percent of the United States supply of fresh water, our Great Lakes could go from being a piece of paradise to a toxic waste site," said Nerat. She invited everyone to join her in the fight to prevent drilling in the Great Lakes.
Dave McNamee, who was present for Nerat's conference, questioned if the ban on drilling included slant drilling.
"Your comments have been with drilling in the Great Lakes," said McNamee. "Most of the information I get is talking about slant drilling, which comes from land under the lake. Most scientists and geologists tell us that this can be done. Canada has been doing this for years without a problem. It seems like a safe way of doing it without being in the water. What is your stand in terms of slant drilling?"
Nerat said the legislature had not discussed slant drilling, but rather off shore drilling as is currently being conducted in the Gulf of Mexico.
"How do you cap this?," asked Nerat, in reference to the off shore oil spill currently in the Gulf. "You can't stop this, where if it was on land it could be capped. But as I said, the legislature hasn't discussed specifically slant drilling."
While Michigan is considered to be the "Great Lakes State," ownership of the lakes is shared with seven other states and two Canadian provinces.
Only three other Great Lakes states - Ohio, New York and Wisconsin prohibit drilling in the Great Lakes.
Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania allow it. In addition, Canadian law permits both onshore and offshore drilling in the Great Lakes.
"Michigan would be the first Great Lakes state to enact a ban on drilling," said Nerat.
She encouraged residents to visit www.dontdrillMIlakes.com to join the fight against drilling in the Great Lakes. The Web site explains how a tragic accident similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico could devastate communities.