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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: States must act on ballasts
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted January 9, 2006

We understand the concerns of Great Lakes shippers worried that a hodgepodge of state laws governing overseas freighters and their discharge of ballast waters could hurt the struggling industry. A federal law would indeed be a better solution. But since it doesn't appear that Congress will pass such a law anytime soon, we see no reasonable alternative to states acting on their own.

Because given the dangers that are known to swim in those ballast tanks, doing nothing to tighten the rules governing their discharge is certainly not reasonable. The danger comes from the invasive species, such as zebra and a couple of other mussels, that scientists argue have used the ballast tanks of overseas freighters to infiltrate the Great Lakes. Of the estimated 60 non-native species that have been found in the lakes since 1970, about 70% have invaded via those tanks, scientists say. And the mussels alone have caused local governments to spend about $1.5 billion over the last two decades just to keep pipes clear.

Invasive species are indeed a national and even international problem, but in the absence of national and international action, states can no longer afford to sit back and let the invasions go unchecked. Michigan has already approved a law that will, beginning in 2007, impose tough fines for discharging contaminated ballast. To their credit, state Senators Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) and Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) are working on similar legislation for Wisconsin. Gov. Jim Doyle says he will support such a proposal.

Port directors and shop operators are worried that a patchwork of costly and confusing state laws could make it difficult for them to operate. Certainly, every effort should be made by state legislatures in the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to come up with rules that are consistent with each other. The aim is to reduce the number of invasions, not sink an industry.

Of course, it would be better if members of Congress enacted a federal bill aimed at curbing the invasions. And one has to wonder why the representatives and senators from the Great Lakes states - including those from Wisconsin - haven't pushed harder for federal legislation. But here's where state action might help.

As Cowles put it: "This is pressuring federal lawmakers. If enough states do something, then (they) have to take notice." Here's hoping he's right.


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