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Editorial: Great Lakes Protection
Effective technology and proposed rules on ballast water are good news for lakes
Detroit Free Press
Published April 21, 2005

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has put in place a key piece for a plan to have Michigan -- ideally joined by other Great Lakes states and provinces -- regulate the ballast water of ocean-going ships. DEQ Director Steve Chester officially declared last week that sufficient means exist for those ships to treat any water that they have sloshing around in their ballast tanks before they pump it anywhere within the state's jurisdiction.

That combines with an effort by state Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, to require regulation of ballast tanks on ocean-going ships, which the Senate committee she chairs, the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, approved unanimously Tuesday. A full Senate vote could come as early as today.

A unified front on ballast water, with the Legislature and Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration working off the same page, is worth celebrating. Other state efforts to stop invasive species from arriving in ballast water have died when proponents got cold feet. Chester's formal finding resulted from one of them, passed by the Legislature in 2001, that really has no teeth. Mostly, the states have simply deferred to the federal government, which has funded some research while shuffling requests for action off to regulatory backwaters.

But Birkholz has taken up the banner with a new, contagious zeal, talking wherever she can about "pollution that reproduces." She said Michiganders have a lot more understanding of invasive species now, and so far she has strong bipartisan support. Birkholz brought her House committee counterparts over for the first hearing on her bill and believes they are committed as well.

Federal action would be far preferable to having the states act -- or not act -- individually, although Birkholz hopes to overcome that obstacle by persuading the other seven Great Lakes states and the two Canadian provinces to adopt virtually identical legislation. The federal government has left a void that it makes sense for the states, finally, to move into -- before any more relatives of zebra mussels, gobies, milfoil and water fleas do.

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