The U.S. House approved legislation today that would establish a national standard for cleaning ship ballast water to kill aquatic invasive species, but environmentalists say the legislation is too weak to prevent new foreign species from invading the Great Lakes.
The ballast water language was included in a measure that would authorize the U.S. Coast Guard through 2014, providing some $26 billion dollars in funding to keep the service afloat over the next three years. The legislation, which was passed on a voice vote, now moves to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
New Ballast Rule Would Override Stricter Regulations
The ballast water provision would override stricter tribal, state and federal regulations, allowing ships on the lakes to comply with a single national standard rather than having to accommodate a patchwork of more than two dozen tribal and state rules as they move through the Great Lakes waters. Enactment of this legislation would preempt efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to impose tougher national ballast water rules.
Under the bill, the federal government would adopt the International Maritime Organization's proposed standard, which would require vessel operators to install technology to limit the number of live organisms in their ballast water.
Michigan Delegation United Against New Standard
Attempts to remove the ballast water provision during a Nov. 4 House debate on the bill failed on a mostly party-line vote, although both Republican and Democratic members of Congress from Michigan voted unanimously to kill the proposed national standard. Environmentalists charge that members of Congress are sacrificing the health of the Great Lakes to protect the financial interests of the shipping industry.
Shipping Industry Says National Standard Is Vital
Shipping companies say in a time of economic peril, Congress should protect critical industries, including shipping. They say laws like the one enacted in New York would likely close the St. Lawrence Seaway to ship traffic because meeting its tough ballast water standard would be nearly impossible. New York ballast water rules, which take effect in 2013, set live-organism limits that are far stiffer for existing and new ships than anything contemplated by the federal government.
Some 65 percent of the 185 invasive species in the Great Lakes are thought to have come through ballast water exchanges over the last few decades, scientists estimate.
S.S. Badger Provision Moves Forward
The Coast Guard bill also includes a provision to allow the Ludington cross-lake car ferry, the S.S. Badger, to continue its daily operations after 2012. The Lake Michigan Carferry Co., which has operated the steamship ferry for nearly six decades, was given special permission by the EPA in 2011 and 2012 to continue dumping its coal ash into Lake Michigan. That special rule was slated to expire after 2012, but this bill would allow the Badger's dumping to continue for the life of the vessel.