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