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Great Lakes Article:

Bill could limit state rules on exotic species
ENVIRONMENT:The proposed legislation is an effort to coordinate ballast regulation under one federal rule.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Posted July 20, 2005

Legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate would override states' efforts to stop exotic species from invading the Great Lakes, critics said Tuesday.

Senate bill 363, called the Ballast Water Management Act of 2005, has been introduced to coordinate ballast regulation under a single federal rule.

Supporters, including chief sponsor Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, have said the legislation is an effort to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. waterways by regulating ballast discharge.

Critics counter that it's an effort to weaken broader efforts to control exotic species such as zebra mussels, ruffe, goby, spiny water fleas and others that hitchhike from foreign ports to North America on ocean freighters.

Environmental groups panned Inouye's bill Tuesday, saying it would exempt action on the 90 percent of oceangoing vessels that enter the Great Lakes, those classified as "No Ballast on Board." Despite the nickname, those ships still carry some foreign water in their ballast tanks and could be transporting exotic species. Regulations have been proposed to require treatment of even NoBoB vessels, led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Critics say the bill stops states from passing their own, tougher legislation to stop ships from bringing exotic species, and that the federal proposal will actually delay and diminish efforts to control ballast on ships.

"We think Michigan is on the right track with our legislation to control ballast water. We don't think it's right at all for the federal government to say we don't have an interest in protecting Great Lakes waters," Bob McCann, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, told the News Tribune Tuesday.

Last month, a new Michigan law went into effect requiring ballast water treatment of all Great Lakes ships entering Michigan ports. State officials say ships can be fitted to treat ballast water for as little as $100,000 to $200,000 per vessel.

"Great Lakes states are spending something like$5 billion annually battling invasive species, so the cost to treat ballast water is small in comparison," McCann said.

Shipping industry officials, in opposing the Michigan law and tougher federal laws, say the cost will be much higher and that the technology is not proven. They're asking for more time, and more federal research money, to resolve the problem.

The Inouye bill also would exempt ballast discharge from regulation under the Clean Water Act. Critics say that would overturn a recent U.S. District Court ruling ordering the EPA to regulate ballast water as pollution under the act. Attorneys general for all Great Lakes states have intervened to support the ruling.

"This would be a bad bill for the Great Lakes. It's not going to stop invaders, it preempts state action to protect their public waters and it sets the dangerous precedent of rolling back Clean Water Act authority," said Jennifer Nalbone, habitat and biodiversity coordinator for Great Lakes United. "We need federal legislation that improves upon the efforts of the states, not bind and gags them."

Inouye's spokesman did not return News Tribune requests for comment Tuesday.

JOHN MYERS covers the environment, natural resources and general news. He can be reached at (218) 723-5344 or at

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