From the Grand Rapids Press:
Loophole may let in more lake invaders
Posted by Jeff Alexander | Press News Service December 16, 2007 01:13AM
A loophole in proposed federal legislation designed to keep ocean freighters from importing more exotic species into the Great Lakes could sink the proposal, leaving the door open to continued invasions.
Similar bills in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives would require ocean ships to treat ballast water tanks before entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. ports. Transoceanic freighters have imported at least one-third of the 185 invasive species in the Great Lakes, including several of the most harmful invaders, according to scientific studies.
The legislation would require all ocean freighters to install ballast water treatment systems by Dec. 31, 2013. But a loophole would allow that deadline to be postponed repeatedly if the U.S. Coast Guard determined adequate technology was not available.
Environmentalists, American-Indian tribes and several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, said they don’t want the Coast Guard leading the war on invasive species.
“The House bill significantly increases the Coast Guard’s responsibility, even though they have not shown a willingness to aggressively tackle the problem of invasive species,” according to a bipartisan letter signed by Hoekstra and 33 other members of Congress.
Hoekstra and other members of Congress want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lead the war on invasive species and determine which ballast treatment systems would be effective. That would relegate the Coast Guard to a role of enforcing rules developed by the EPA.
The shipping industry doesn’t like the idea of the EPA managing the ballast water treatment program. Industry officials claim the EPA doesn’t understand the technical difficulties of treating ballast water in ships.
Industry officials also contend the December 2013 deadline for installing ballast water treatment systems on all ocean ships is unrealistic.
“It’s like passing a law that says all cars have to get 200 miles per gallon tomorrow to solve the energy crisis. If you want technology-driven treatment standards, you have to have time to allow the technology to develop,” said James Weakley, vice president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, a coalition of shipping and industry groups.
Lawmakers, industry officials and environmentalists agree on one thing: Congress must act quickly to approve ballast water legislation before the 2008 presidential campaign brings the legislative process to a screeching halt. The proposed legislation will die if Congress and President Bush don’t approve it by Dec. 31, 2008.
“We’re up against the clock, and Congress needs to make some decisions. The longer we wait, the more invasive species we’re going to get,” said Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director for Great Lakes United, a Buffalo-based environmental group.
A new invasive species is discovered in the Great Lakes every seven months, according to research data. Federal officials have been unable to stop the flow of invasive species into the lakes despite two decades of study, countless meetings and numerous regulations.
The federal legislation would require that all oceangoing ships entering the lakes be equipped with devices capable of killing fish, invertebrates and bacteria commonly found in ballast tanks.
Despite supporting much of the federal legislation, Great Lakes lawmakers and environmental groups oppose two key provisions. The legislation would prohibit states from enacting ballast water treatment rules and exempt ships from the federal Clean Water Act, the nation’s pre-eminent water pollution control law.
Weakley said the shipping industry supports the federal legislation despite its belief that the ballast water treatment standards cannot be met with existing technology. He said a single federal law is better than a patchwork of state ballast water treatment laws.
Michigan recently required all ocean ships that discharge ballast water to have on-board treatment systems. Several other states are considering similar measures.
Tim Eder, executive director of the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission, said the states are reluctant to surrender their right to regulate ships’ ballast water because federal agencies have failed to solve the problem.
“The federal government has not demonstrated an ability to effectively protect the Great Lakes from invasive species in ballast water,” Eder said. “We’re concerned that once the federal rules are enacted, they may not be tough enough. The states want to be able to step in and supplement those federal regulations.”