Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 5, 2013

Forum: Weakening ballast water standards harmful

By Joel Brammeier
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — State Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, and Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, have introduced bills targeting Michigan’s protections against devastating new invasions of species that have no place in the state. The bills propose to roll back years of work that is sustaining the state’s fish, wildlife and outdoor commerce.

SB 266 and HB 4495 would weaken Michigan’s tight standards on polluted ballast water from oceangoing ships, and Michiganders should strenuously oppose them. Prevention of new invasions from ballast water is the best kind of goal — urgent, nonpartisan and entirely achievable.

Of the various pathways for invasive species entering the Great Lakes, ballast water discharges are the most serious and damaging. Nearly 70 percent of invasives in the Great Lakes have entered in the cargo holds of oceangoing vessels since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Zebra and quagga mussels vacuum up food that would otherwise support valuable sportfish and have led to collapses of economically essential fish stocks. Utilities and industry spend millions to control mussels that stick to and foul intake pipes. A recent University of Notre Dame study found that these species are costing the Great Lakes region at least $200 million annually. The damage and costs never end — once a species has successfully invaded, it is here permanently.

Fortunately, many policy makers in this state have long understood the economic and environmental value of protecting the planet’s largest source of surface freshwater from biological pollution. Recognizing a lack of federal leadership, Michigan in 2005 passed a law establishing a state ballast water technology program designed to protect the quality of life and economic opportunity afforded Michiganders by the state’s vast freshwater resources. In doing so, Michigan became a leader in recognizing that the costs of preventing future invasions should not be borne by taxpayers, but by businesses committed to sustainable shipping in the Great Lakes.

Michigan’s choice to prioritize this most serious route of invasion still makes sense. Eight years later, federal approaches to preventing new invasions via ballast remain inadequate, with both the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency following the weak lead of the International Maritime Organization. Michigan should not rely solely on these federal agencies to protect its sovereign water resources.

Fish and wildlife are a critical leg in the stool supporting Michigan’s economy. At the time of the 2005 law’s passage, not a single Michigan port was welcoming oceangoing ships seeking to discharge polluted ballast. Direct oceangoing traffic remains a tiny fraction of Michigan port activity and is dwarfed by Michigan’s colossal outdoor and tourism economy.

The current law provides a clear and fair process for shippers to either install an approved invasion prevention technology, or apply for the state to certify their technology of choice. If Michigan fails to uphold its commitment to preventing invasions, it will condemn a first-rate natural resource to protection by second-rate technologies.

About the author: Joel Brammeier is President & CEO of Alliance for the Great Lakes; by e-mail at: jbrammeier@greatlakes.org.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.