Editorial: Michigan's new ballast law is a step forward
Port Huron Times-Herald
Published January 5, 2007
Regulation defends Great Lakes against invasive species
All those who believe in stronger environmental protections for the Great Lakes should look to Michigan. A new state law takes an unprecedented step in protecting those waters against invasive species.
The irony is the source of the threat is well known. Freighters need the weight of ballast water - a combination of sediment, seaweed and water - to maintain their stability. Oceangoing freighters inadvertently deliver the mollusk to the Great Lakes through their ballasts.
Since the 1980s, zebra mussels have wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes. The damage the mollusk caused is costs hundreds of millions in tax dollars each year.
Now, Michigan officials have taken steps to end the invasion.
The law, which took effect Monday, requires salt-water freighters that stop at any Michigan port to pay $150 a year for a ballast permit. The ships can comply either by not releasing their ballast water or by treating it with biocides that eliminate any potential invaders before the water goes into the Great Lakes.
The law is a welcome precedent. Michigan is the first state to enact such a statute, and it undoubtedly is sending a message to the shipping industry.
As important as this new legislation is, it still is a step rather than a solution. Michigan is only one of several states that share the Great Lakes. Although those other states are hoping the new law stands, it is almost certain to be challenged.
The new fee and restrictions appear modest, but some shipping company is likely to argue they still are burdensome to commerce.
There also are practical questions. The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards monitor ballast-water exchanges. If a freighter respects the statute while it navigates Michigan's portion the Great Lakes, what happens when it travels through waters governed by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania or New York?
The truth, though, is as hopeful as Michigan's new ballast law obviously is, Congress, not individual states, should be the one to enact legislation. Beyond the practical concerns of enforcing such a law, the federal government also is in a far better position to win Canada's cooperation. Either through international treaty or national legislation, it's obvious both nations have a vested interest in protecting the Great Lakes from the zebra-mussel threat. The future of these precious bodies of water demands it.
There is no foolproof method for the treatment of ballast water. Preventing its release into the Great Lakes is the best way to safeguard water quality.
While the International Maritime Organization is developing regulations to hold shipping companies to ballast laws, Michigan's statute already is in force.
Granted, it falls short of a comprehensive standard that protects all the Great Lakes. However, it does send the right message.
For decades Great Lakes waters have been exposed to zebra mussels. At least one state is attempting to apply a remedy.