Michigan, Great Lakes states retain control; “Regulatory chaos” says shipping group
The U.S. Senate in a close vote Wednesday defeated a bill that environmental groups in the Great Lakes region say would have weakened ballast water protections designed to keep aquatic invasive species out of the lakes.
For decades, the lakes have been plagued by aquatic invaders which hitch a ride in ballast water in ships from around the world that can eventually be dumped into the lakes.
Once established in the lakes, the species can wreak ecological and economic havoc.
Critical legislation to authorize the Coast Guard that contained the changes to ballast water law was defeated in a procedural vote. To pass, the bill needed 60 votes but it fell four votes shy.
The main complaint from environmental groups was that the bill would have exempted ballast water from enforcement under the Clean Water Act, the landmark law for protection of waterways.
Additionally, the bill would have prohibited states from enforcing their ballast water rules and given the Coast Guard exclusive authority to enforce ballast water regulations.
“This is a huge victory for the millions of people, communities, and businesses who want to put an end to the environmental and economic harm wrought by aquatic invasive species,” the Ann Arbor-based National Wildlife Federation said in a statement.
“The Clean Water Act offers the most effective defense against non-native invaders,” according to the federation.
But James Weakley, President of the Lake Carriers Association, disagrees.
Weakley praised the Clean Water Act for what it can do, but tells Great Lakes Now that “it doesn’t work for mobile sources” the way the marine shipping industry does.
Weakley says the new bill would have played to the strengths of both the U.S. EPA and the Coast Guard.
“The EPA’s strength is in science, and the Coast Guard’s is in enforcement, and it has expertise in vessel inspections,” Weakley says.
Weakley says the shipping industry wants “predictable, consistent and enforceable regulations instead of the current patchwork quilt that has led to regulatory chaos.”
Weakley tells Great Lakes Now that “there was no loosening of any regulation” in the bill.
The Great Lakes Senate delegation was split on the legislation.
Nine senators voted for the status quo in favor of keeping ballast water regulations under control of the U.S. EPA and enforceable under the Clean Water Act.
Six senators voted to exempt ballast regulations from U.S. EPA control and enforcement under the CWA.
Notable votes in favor of exempting ballast water regulation from the Clean Water Act were Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Both Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters voted against the bill.
In a statement, Peters said, if passed, the bill would have set “weak environmental standards for ballast water in the Great Lakes, and preempting the State of Michigan and the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, would only put the Great Lakes at greater risk for devastation.”
The Lake Carrier Association’s Weakley tells Great Lakes Now that he “understands the desire of several of the Great Lakes States and activist groups to resist federal preemption of state regulations, but they don’t seem to object to or have the ability to control one state preempting another state.”
Peters says he hopes Senate colleagues will produce a “clean” Coast Guard authorization bill free of measures “which jeopardize the health of the Great Lakes and prospects for bipartisan Coast Guard legislation.”
Weakley says, “We look forward to working with those members of Congress who want to find a solution that works for the industry, for the environment and for the regulatory agencies.”