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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes need protection from foreign ship water, species
By Candice S. Miller
Detroit Free Press
10/22/03

In Michigan, we know the Great Lakes are a unique ecosystem, and we cannot continue to allow invasive species to upset its delicate balance.

Invasive species are a nonnative plant or animal introduced into an ecosystem with the potential to cause harm to the economy, environment, human health, recreation or waterways. With an estimated 162 or more species in the Great Lakes, we need to take the necessary precautions to protect them, especially from zebra mussels, round goby or any other foreign species that can be introduced via foreign vessel ballast water.

While some may view the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to not pursue ballast water regulation as a holdup, I see it as an opportunity to do an even better job of monitoring one of our most treasured natural resources, especially when these ships are being inspected by those who know our Great Lakes the best, the U.S. Coast Guard.

Last month, I introduced legislation to reduce the amount of ballast water coming into the Great Lakes. Ballast water is what ships use for balance and weight when they're not fully loaded, usually added at their last port of call. In the case of ships entering the Great Lakes from overseas, that could be from anywhere in the world.

Any ship carrying ballast water in any amount is a potential invasion source. By stopping the introduction of invasive species through ballast water tanks, one of the greatest threats to the U.S. waters and ecosystems will be greatly reduced.

My bill, the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, would make it mandatory for any ship to first drop at least 95 percent of its ballast water before entering the Great Lakes system. Ships would be required to certify their compliance before departing the St. Lawrence Seaway's first lock.

Clearly, ships have not been engineered to remove 100 percent of their ballast water and accumulated sediment. Coast Guard regulations for ballast management actually exempt so-called NOBOB vessels, which means they are declaring No Ballast On Board. However, looks can be deceiving. Such vessels may contain up to 100 metric tons of unpumpable water and residual sludge, making them a perfect hiding place for exotic species.

A ballast water discharge standard is one tool we can use to measure our progress in protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species.

Policywise, our goal should be zero ballast water discharge entering the Great Lakes from overseas. Then, regulation would drive technology to build ships with a greater capacity to discharge a higher percentage of their ballast water before entering the Lakes. My bill has flexibility to accept five percent until technology and ship design are able to achieve zero percent, or close to it.

Protracted debates among scientists, policymakers and industry groups have distracted us from the ultimate goal, and subsequently, our willingness to come to terms with this issue. The Coast Guard has issued a notice in the Federal Register citing a need for more information to develop new standards. The ensuing meetings, forums, committees, task force reports and other machinations will inevitably ensure a slow, grueling march forward.

If we can agree the policy goal is no more introductions of invasive species -- and shift our focus from debating the standard to constructing timetables -- the Great Lakes will be served.

Given interstate commerce laws and the geographic scope of the Great Lakes, the federal government is the logical place to pass the most stringent regulations. But unless Michigan and the other Great Lakes states continue to flex their muscle, they will miss an opportunity to demonstrate leadership while pushing the federal government for tougher regulations.

Decisions made in Michigan and the Great Lakes region over the next few years will be of permanent national and global significance as nations everywhere struggle to stop the spread of invasive species. Efforts to control exotic species must command the same level of commitment and resources as have been dedicated historically to controlling pollution and preserving habitat.

The discharge standard should be zero, even though we won't achieve that goal overnight. We have had years to discuss the problem. Now it is time for meaningful action.

U.S. REP. CANDICE S. MILLER, R-Harrison Township, represents the 10th U.S. House District in Michigan. Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.

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