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Great Lakes Article:

States prod EPA to act against Great Lakes exotics
The Associated Press
11/15/2002


ALBANY — Attorneys general from four states on Wednesday tried to force the federal government to protect the Great Lakes from harmful, foreign species discharged in ballast of oceangoing ships.

Zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, sea lamprey and other species of fish and insects disgorged from ships have caused millions of dollars in damage to Great Lakes businesses and the environment, the attorneys said in court filings Wednesday.

Current protections -- including a federal requirement that makes oceangoing ships flush out ballast water before entering the Great Lakes -- are inadequate, said Chuck O’Neill, a Brockport-based senior extension associate with New York Sea Grant.

U.S. ballast water regulations are “a leaky sieve,” he said, because they don’t account for tainted sludge in ballast tanks or screen for harmful pathogens.

“You’re not going to find anyone who thinks (putting pressure on the EPA) is a bad idea,” said O’Neill, the only New Yorker on the federal invasive species advisory committee, which advises cabinet-level officials.

Last year, environmental groups sued the EPA to close a loophole that allowed ships to discharge water from ballast tanks without regulation.

In March, a federal court in California ordered the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate the discharges, although the EPA has appealed. The state attorneys filed a brief with the federal appellate court in San Francisco in that appeal.

“By failing to act, the EPA is allowing this serious problem to worsen,” said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the lead attorney in the effort. “I am asking a federal court to direct the EPA to take steps under the clean Water Act to address this important issue.”

O’Neill said getting the EPA involved in ballast water regulations -- now enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard -- would add “one more bully pulpit” on the issue of nuisance species. More than 50 percent of exotic plants and animals invading the Great Lakes, he said, come from the ballast water of oceangoing ships.

O’Neill, who helps oversee the Brockport-based National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearinghouse, called for “zero tolerance” for such species, which disrupt Great Lakes ecosystems and batter local economies.

Joining Spitzer were attorneys general Jim Ryan of Illinois, Mike Hatch of Minnesota, and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, who is governor-elect. Their spokesmen didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a joint statement, the officials said the foreign species threaten seaboard and inland ports around the country.

An EPA spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In October, Michigan officials called for a coordinated fight against “aquatic nuisance species,” which they portrayed as the top environmental threat to Michigan waters.

Wednesday’s court filing notes that since the sea lamprey was dumped into the Great Lakes in the 1950s, the lake trout population dropped from 15 million pounds caught annually in lakes Superior and Huron to 300,000 pounds. By 1992, the cost of controlling the sea lamprey rose to $10 million a year.

If the EPA doesn’t regulate ballast, the attorneys said states will have to craft state-by-state legislation, according to the court document.

Michigan is testing ways, including chlorination, to kill exotic species carried in ballast water.

O’Neill said chlorination is problematic, since chlorinated water can’t be discharged into fresh water. Ultimate solutions, including seagoing ballast screening devices or shore-based ballast transfer plants, present “enormous engineering problems,” he said.

Federal legislation to address the exotic species problem is pending.

Includes reporting by staff writer Corydon Ireland.
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