Coalition Opposes Provision that Strips Funding from States that are Taking Action on Invasive Species

Ecosystem Shock: Zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species introduced from the ballast water of ships have contributed to the breakdown of the Great Lakes aquatic food. The more than 183 non-native species in the Lakes now inflict more than $200 million annually in damages and control costs. PHOTO / EPA

There are a lot of reasons to oppose the U.S. House Interior and EPA spending bill that is expected to come to a floor vote as early as next week. The bill guts funding to essential Great Lakes restoration programs. It slashes funding to programs that help prevent sewage overflows. And it contains horrific policy riders that undermine clean water protections.

And, there is this: A provision which holds hostage federal funding from states that are taking action to prevent the introduction of invasive species through ballast water discharge.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition yesterday sent a letter to congressional offices, opposing the provision, which threatens to strip funding from states that have acted to stop invasive species introductions by implementing ballast water regulations that are more protective than federal or international standards.

The coalition’s letter states:

“This provision penalizes states for adopting long-overdue restrictions that try to stop the introduction and spread of harmful invasive species. Ship ballast is the primary pathway for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, which cause tremendous damage in their new homes.”

The provision, if it becomes law, would have serious consequences for Great Lakes states—barring them from receiving any EPA funding through programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, Superfund, Brownfields funding and other EPA programs. That would amount to each state losing tens of millions of dollars of federal funding each year.

To put it in perspective, Great Lakes states received between $27 million (Minnesota) and $167 million (New York) from the EPA-administered Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund in the 2011 budget. The program helps communities modernize wastewater infrastructure to halt sewage overflows.

The provision is squarely aimed at punishing New York – which has taken strong action to protect its waters from invasive species. The law’s ambiguity, however, also likely means that states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin would also lose millions of dollars of federal funding as well.

It is unfathomable to think that the federal government would ever consider penalizing states for taking action to stop invasive species. For decades, the federal government turned a blind eye to the ongoing onslaught of invasive species spilling into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters from ballast discharge of foreign vessels. As the federal government dragged its feet and ignored the problem, a steady stream of invaders kept coming: zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, spiny water fleas and more.

The environmental and economic harm in the Great Lakes has been staggering: Aquatic invasive species have crashed the base of the aquatic food web and now cause at least $200 million annually in damages and control costs on citizens, utilities, businesses and cities.

But the damage was not contained to Great Lakes waters. The Great Lakes have been an entry point for foreign, harmful species to spread to other U.S. waters, as the colonization of zebra and quagga mussels as far west as California make clear.

The federal government did finally act—after being sued. In a case of “too little, too late,” the U.S. EPA issued a weak ballast water discharge permit that still left the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters vulnerable to invasive species. That led, predictably, to another lawsuit to force the EPA to issue a strong, protective permit.

Maybe the EPA will get it right this time. Until then, the millions of people who have waited years for a solution to the vexing problem of invasive species introduced via ballast water have states like New York to thank for standing up to stop the influx of invaders. We need to be applauding and defending states that are stepping up to the plate to protect the Lakes, not punishing them.

That’s why the federal rider that threatens to strip funding from New York and other states is plain wrong. As Jennifer Nalbone of Great Lakes United said recently in discussing the egregious bill:

“Threatening to keep funding from states that are doing the right thing on invasive species undermines the effort to restore the Great Lakes. Invasive species cost the region at least $200 million annually – and that cost will grow unless strong protections are put in place to stop the next invasion. We need both strong invasive species protection and robust restoration funding to restore the Lakes and the communities which rely on them.”

The provision holds federal funding hostage from states that are doing the right thing to protect the Great Lakes. It’s time to kill this provision and get to work to restore the Lakes.

This misguided provision is one of many atrocious riders in the 2012 interior spending bill that undermine clean water programs that millions of people in the Great Lakes and across the country depend on. It’s a bill that combines bad policy with steep funding cuts – which is why the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is urging the Great Lakes Congressional delegation to oppose the bill.

As Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the coalition recently said:

“This 2012 spending bill is bad for the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their drinking water, jobs and way of life. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from federal restoration efforts. Great Lakes restoration efforts are producing results—but there is more to do. Unless Congress changes course, the problems facing the Lakes will be harder and more costly to solve. We urge the House to oppose this bill, go back to the drawing board and produce a bill that is good for the Lakes, our economy and way of life.”

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