Congress slow to stop Great Lakes ‘invaders’
Invasive marine species entering in ships' ballast water
Posted on MSNBC.msn.com on October 17, 2005
WASHINGTON - Legislation aimed at preventing foreign fish,
clams and marine creatures from entering the Great Lakes
in oceangoing ships is languishing in Congress while the
shipping industry pushes a less restrictive bill.
Environmentalists and Great Lakes officials want legislation
that would keep invasive species from making the trip
in ships’ ballast water, which is used to balance the
The Coast Guard requires ships entering U.S. waters to
first exchange any fresh water ballast for salt water
in the ocean, in an effort to cut down on foreign organisms
that can survive in the Great Lakes. Fresh-water organisms
generally have a harder time surviving in salt water,
and the reverse is also true.
But questions remain about the effectiveness of this
The issue is of paramount concern in the Great Lakes
region, the world’s largest above-ground fresh-water system.
Invasive species like zebra mussels are already wreaking
havoc on the region’s ecosystem by decimating the base
of the lakes’ food chain.
Most ships exempt from rule
Adding to the problem is that 80 percent of ships entering
the Great Lakes do not carry ballast because they are
carrying so much cargo they don’t need the extra weight.
As a result, they are exempt from the exchange requirements.
However, they may still be carrying residual water in
their ballast tanks, and that water can harbor invasive
species that can escape into the Great Lakes.
“U.S. waters remain vulnerable to species invasions
because many ships are still not required to conduct ballast
water exchange,” said a recent report by the Government
Accountability Office, a congressional investigative agency.
The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act would phase
out ballast exchange by 2011, replacing it with technology
that would kill invasive sealife.
“It may be the most important bill in Congress to protect
the Great Lakes from ecological collapse,” said Andy Buchsbaum,
director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes
Natural Resource Center. “On average, once every eight
months a new invasive species invades the Great Lakes.
This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.”
Rival bills in Senate
But the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.,
has not moved in Congress in three years. A rival bill,
the Ballast Water Management Act, has made it through
the Senate Commerce Committee with support from the international
That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii,
gives the shipping industry more time to come up with
technology to treat ballast water than Levin’s bill.
Inouye’s measure calls for standards 100 times more stringent
than an agreement adopted last year by the United Nations
International Maritime Organization. That pact has not
yet adopted by member countries.
Inouye’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Before the Commerce Committee voted on the Inouye bill
this year, attorneys general from six Great Lakes states
wrote to panel chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, urging
him not to move forward on the measure.
The officials, representing Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois,
Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, said the measure
would remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority
to regulate ballast water and pre-empt state laws.
Helen Brohl, executive director of the U.S. Great Lakes
Shipping Association, which supports Inouye’s bill, argued
that EPA was not in a position to regulate ships’ ballast
“Our position is that while EPA has a role to play with
regard to reviewing and scientific vetting of technology,
it’s the Coast Guard’s experience and expertise to implement,”
Brohl, whose group represents agents that handle foreign
ships in Great Lakes ports, also said it doesn’t make
sense to have individual state laws when implementing
a federal standard.