Editorial: Let's get behind legislation that would protect our lakes
The Oakland Press
Published June 8, 2007
The Great Lakes Commission has asked the region's congressional delegation to assist in keeping invasive species out of the lakes chain. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition this past month went so far as to demand a prohibition on international shipping in the Great Lakes to call attention to the problem of invasive species in the lakes.
Both groups want national standards and regulations on ballast water to prevent international shipping from introducing further foreign species into the lakes.
Ballast water is held in tanks of ships to increase stability. When ships enter the Great Lakes, they discharge at least some of the ballast water - often taken on in other countries. Scientists blame the ballast discharges for the introduction of as many as 183 foreign species that now inhabit the lakes.
Those species include the destructive zebra mussel and other species that threaten the aquatic food chain and the sport fishing industry in Michigan. A new foreign species is discovered in the lakes about every six to eight months.
Realistically, a temporary ban on international shipping isn't going to happen and is probably ill-advised. Such a moratorium would further damage Michigan's economy. Also, it would be a Herculean task to get all the states in the commission and Canada to agree to such a ban. A backlash from foreign countries that would undoubtedly enact similar moratoriums against U.S. shipping in retaliation would hurt the nation's economy.
The solution the commission and coalition seek already exists in bills. One is HR 889, introduced by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, in February.
Miller's bill would impose stringent federal standards for ships carrying ballast water and entering the Great Lakes system. The bill's standards for discharged ballast water would be 10 times tougher than guidelines now used by the International Maritime Organization and would require that all ships entering the United States - especially those through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes - complete ballast water exchanges before entering the country. The ballast exchanges would theoretically flush any invasive species out a ship's tanks before they reached the Great Lakes chain.
Also pending in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (S. 725) introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. This legislation also would enact strict national ballast water laws that would require appropriate treatment for ballast to kill any potential invasive species.
Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - the states within the commission - have called for federal ballast regulations. The commission and the Council of Great Lakes Governors have repeatedly urged Congress to adopt legislation.
Michigan has enacted its own ballast water regulations. Those standards are now being legally challenged by Canadian shipping companies. Federally mandated regulations would stand up better to legal challenges.
Michigan's congressional delegation, as well as those of other states in the commission, must get behind Miller's and Levin's legislation and make it a priority this year.