Wisconsin has taken steps to join Michigan as the second state to regulate ballast water in the Great Lakes sending a clear signal to Washington that absent Congressional leadership and legislation, the state is prepared take the initiative to create ad hoc ballast controls. As it turns out, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has the legal authority to regulate ballast water discharges under the state’s Pollutant Discharge Elimination System so international shippers may soon have to apply for permits for discharges into Lakes Michigan and Superior.
Wisconsin’s determination of its legal authority to regulate ballast water under existing state laws was prompted by a request from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and twelve other conservation groups. It may have also been responding to an appeal made by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to her counterparts in surrounding states and Canada late last year. Using her state’s ballast law as an example, she argued that the region could create an ad hoc ballast law that would protect the Great Lakes from what is moving toward soon-to-be irrevocable damages that invasives produce.
The lakes are at a tipping point, according to scientists. There are so many invasive species in the lakes with new ones appearing every 28 weeks – that waiting any longer will mean a destroyed ecosystem. Invasive species are introduced into the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean going vessels. They wreak havoc on the fresh water ecology and cost state economies millions.
There is pending federal legislation that would create a national treatment standard for ballast water, but at the moment it is pending due to some concerns which are currently being negotiated.
Granholm wrote: “…effective congressional action to address aquatic invasive species and ballast water discharge is not assured.” She adds, “Without an effective federal response, I believe the states have a responsibility to act.”
Her letter comes on the heels of a federal court decision upholding Michigan’s ballast law in a suit brought by shipping companies. More cautious states had been taking a wait- and-see approach but now have a green light to act.
“This decision is a tremendous victory for Michigan and for any state desiring to protect its waters from the massive harm caused by introductions of invasive species from foreign shipping via ballast water,” the letter reads.
And it isn’t expensive either. The letter points out that 73 ships from nearly 30 different companies applied for permits and each paid a $75 application fee. This offsets the costs making implementation cost-effective.
“Again, I urge you to join Michigan in protecting the Great Lakes…We should seize the opportunity for coordinated state regulation to prevent the economic and environmental damage that could be caused by the next species to arrive in ballast water.”
Granholm’s imperative call to action and Wisconsin’s recent commitment to control ballast discharges is another sign to Congress that they should do all they can to work out the more controversial aspects from the Ballast Bill of 2007 and pass it as quickly as possible. If not, states may end up with piecemeal, ad hoc, regional ballast regulations that could cause shippers more headaches and will certainly lend to a decentralized, difficult-to-manage ballast system. States are serious about ending the worst threat to the Great Lakes, is Congress?
Granholm sent her appeal to:
Honorable Jean Charest, Premier
Honorable Dalton McGuinty, Premier