Senate to Vote on Bill Exempting Ships from Clean Water Act

A freighter in the Muskegon channel. Ships like this would be exempt from oversight from the Clean Water Act if a bill in the Senate is passed. Credit NOAA.

The U.S. Senate is prepared to vote on a bill that will allow more invasive species into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. The vote could come as early as tomorrow, April 18.

The dangerous bill in question is the Coast Guard Authorization Act. Attached to the bill is the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which exempts the shipping industry from complying with Clean Water Act standards that protect our waters. The Clean Water Act currently requires ships to treat their ballast water so that they don’t introduce biological pollution into U.S. waters. The Clean Water Act is the most effective tool to prevent more invasive species in the Great Lakes.


The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition opposes passage of the Coast Guard bill unless the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act is removed, and we’ve asked Great Lakes Senators to oppose the bill as written.

The bill’s special treatment for the shipping industry is extraordinary. This is the same industry that has introduced zebra mussels and dozens of other non-native invaders into the Great Lakes. And these invaders are costing, by conservative estimates, at least $200 million per year in damage and control costs to small businesses, communities, utilities, cities, and industries. Nationally, invasive species incur billions of dollars of damages and control costs onto communities and businesses—even the U.S. military.


Yet despite the extensive and ongoing permanent damage that invasive species have wrought on our environment and economy, the shipping industry wants to avoid fixing a problem it is solely and entirely responsible for.


That’s why the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is urging U.S. Senators—especially those in the Great Lakes states—to oppose the Coast Guard bill, unless anti-Clean Water Act provisions are removed.

The stakes could not be higher: Passage of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act will essentially be “game over” in our efforts to effectively protect U.S. waters, businesses, and communities from aquatic invasive species. Lax protections would be disastrous because once invasive species take hold, they are impossible to eradicate. In fact, they will likely spread. Case in point: zebra and quagga mussels, which arrived in the Great Lakes in the late 1980s and have since spread as far West as California, Nevada and Texas.


The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is urging U.S. senators to oppose the Coast Guard bill, unless the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act is removed. It is imperative that federal public officials vigorously oppose enshrining a flawed, ineffective regime that will not protect the Great Lakes, or other U.S. waters, from future invasive species.


The Great Lakes congressional delegation has worked together to make Great Lakes restoration and protection a national priority. And federal investments in Great Lakes restoration and protection are producing results in communities across the region. But we cannot afford to roll back Clean Water Act protections that undermine that progress.


That’s why the Coalition encourages the U.S. Senate to pass a clean Coast Guard bill—without the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act.

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