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Great Lakes Article:

States Join Suit in Effort To Protect the Great Lakes
By Anthony DePalma
New York Times
Published July 17, 2004


New York and six other states have joined a federal lawsuit that seeks to force the United States Environmental Protection Agency to do more to prevent foreign species of fish and plants from invading the Great Lakes. Those species can cause billions of dollars in damage and crowd out indigenous species.

The states, all of them touching on the Great Lakes, announced on Thursday that they wanted the agency to take an active role in enforcing regulations that control the discharge of ballast water from oceangoing vessels.

Ballast water, which ships take on in foreign ports for balance under light loads, can include species of plants and animals - like the zebra mussel - that can cause environmental havoc because they have no natural predators or controls in the Great Lakes to keep them from multiplying prolifically.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate ballast water discharges, leaving that responsibility to the United States Coast Guard. The states, according to their "friend of the court" brief filed on Thursday, contend that the E.P.A.'s refusal to regulate ballast discharges violates provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The five Great Lakes hold 95 percent of the fresh surface water in the United States and provide drinking water for more than 33 million people in the United States and Canada.

"The exotic species of fish, mussels and plants contained in these discharges multiply at fantastic rates and overwhelm our ecosystem," said Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general. "The federal government can and must be more aggressive in combating this problem, which each year costs Great Lakes communities billions of dollars in damages."

Peter Lehner, chief of the environmental bureau in Mr. Spitzer's office, said foreign-owned ships that come to the Great Lakes from other freshwater ports, like those in the Black and Caspian Seas, are the principal transporters of invasive species. They make 500 to 600 voyages a year to the Great Lakes, most without any inspection of their ballast water.

The E.P.A. defended its decision not to police ballast discharges but instead to work with the Coast Guard to carry out the National Invasive Species Act, a law passed to fight the introduction of exotic and invasive species in ballast water. "We believe the quickest, most effective route to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters is through prevention, not necessarily regulation," said Cynthia Bergman, an agency spokeswoman.

The Chamber of Shipping of America, representing American shipowners, agreed that the introduction of invasive species was a serious problem that ought to be strictly regulated by the federal government. Joseph J. Cox, the group's president, said that shipowners were experimenting with ultraviolet rays and other environmentally sensitive methods of neutralizing ballast water, but that the techniques were not ready for large-scale industrial use.

The states joined a lawsuit filed in December by several environmental groups, including Northwest Environmental Advocates.

While they want the E.P.A. to address the ballast problem, the states have also petitioned the Coast Guard to revise its ballast water regulations to eliminate a significant loophole that allows most ships to go uninspected.

The Coast Guard is charged by law with ensuring that all ships with ballast tanks do not bring invasive species into American waters. But most foreign ships entering the Great Lakes are fully loaded, and their ballast tanks are empty except for a layer of sludge on the bottom of the tanks that often includes fish eggs or marine plant seeds. The Coast Guard considers such tanks empty and allows the ships to bypass inspections.

But after unloading all or part of their cargo, these ships generally take on ballast water from the Great Lakes before going to the next port. The freshwater mixes with the sludge and the species it holds, and can be discharged at another American or Canadian port when the ship picks up cargo before heading home.

Besides New York, the states involved in the petition and supporting brief are Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Indiana attorney general supported the action but chose not to participate.

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