Leave No Lake Behind

The Ballast Water Bill of 2007 is on hold. While we have good reason to expect that this rigorous national approach to address the problem of invasive species will eventually pass –Great Lakes states should move aggressively to adopt their own protections against these costly invaders. 

Robert McCann, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, says that while they are glad the Federal government is considering this law – which would set rigorous national standards for the release of ballast water- there are still concerns for states. “The implementation is years out – 2015 before ships have to comply and we close the door on invasive species. How many more are going to get into the Great Lakes in that time?”  

But hold on – the way the bill is currently written, it would make any state ballast laws null and void. The Great Lakes have needed ballast control laws for decades, but Michigan is the sole state to have taken initiative and boldly enact one. Ships must obtain a permit to use the state’s ports. The permits are issued if the company proves that they will not discharge ballast water or will use one of four approved technologies and methods that will prevent the spread of invasive species. The law has been in effect since January and it is working! 

“The law is working the way we wanted it to,” McCann says, “Whether or not it ultimately has the effect we want it to will be determined by what happens on the regional or federal level.” 

New York has joined Michigan, vocally opposing the part of the bill that would prevent states from making laws that would protect themselves. Governor Eliot Spitzer wrote,“While I strongly prefer effective federal programs that are nationally consistent, history has demonstrated that States must retain the authority to protect their sovereign, regulatory and proprietary interests in their waters. Preserving the rights of State and local governments is crucial,” in a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chair of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. 

Apart from Michigan’s law, the rest of the Great Lakes states have not taken much action to enact programs to deal with the biggest threat to our lakes. States would make an impression on Congress if they enact their own state ballast water programs.

“Everybody prefers a national solution, but in the absence of a federal program, states need to protect themselves,” says Jeff Skelding, national director for the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, “No one who cares about the Great Lakes supports the preemption of state’s rights. But we need the states to take the next step and force the hand of congress by putting forth their own programs to combat invasives. Congress needs to get the message that if we can’t get this done in Washington we’re going to do it back home.”

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