Ballast Water Battle in DC and Federal Court


The battle against invasive species has been going on in the Great Lakes for decades. Zebra and quagga mussels. Round gobies. The VHS virus, often charmingly referred to as "fish ebola." These and the other tiny critters, plants and viruses which are literally transforming one of the world's most important fresh water ecosystems arrived and were moved around the Lakes via ships' ballast water tanks. That transformation is not for the better, with huge impacts to the biodiversity, water quality, infrastructure the region relies on and overall health of the Great Lakes.

And it would get worse if some in Congress have their way.

A new effort to undercut ballast water protections has been quietly making the rounds in DC at the behest of the cruise and shipping industries. There is an active effort afoot to remove ship ballast water discharges, the source of many invasive species, from Clean Water Act oversight. Worse, it basically makes more stringent ballast water rules impossible going forward. You can read the gory details in my recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed detailing the proposed rules.

Industry reps clearly read it. They responded with a counterpoint piece that cynically reinforces many of our concerns. The quiet effort to roll back and prevent further protections is not environmentally problematic; it's a head on swipe at democratic ideals. The piece makes a point to note I had missed a hearing held on the topic--it is true, one had been held, but it seems everyone missed it as it was a "show hearing" that only included voices in favor of the anti-ballast bill. To be clear, the industry does not want debate on this issue because they do not want public involvement at all. That is the clear point of moving ballast water discharges out from under the Clean Water Act which expressly empowers the public to launch citizen suits to protect their interests and the water bodies that they rely upon.

A recent decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that EPA has failed in its legal responsibilities in adequately protecting the Great Lakes from invasives. Ironically, those shipping interests that oppose standards for ballast water discharges are trying to use this case to convince the Congress to essentially exempt their ships from any ballast water standards. Congress must ignore these efforts that are a losing proposition for democracy and clean water.

Invasive species in the Great Lakes have already cost our economy billions of dollars. Leaving the door wide open to more of the same, while cutting the public and other industries reliant on healthy Lakes is a very bad idea. That's why it is being shopped as an add-on to other public-facing bills at the moment. The public and the Lakes will be better served if it never emerges from the shadows for a vote.

Ballast image by Chris Bentley via Flickr