Friday, April 25, 2008

Ballast Water Regulation Gets Support In Interesting Places

The US House of Representatives has passed the first-ever national rules to combat the release of invasive species from ocean-going ships' ballast water tanks that are devastating fish populations in the Great Lakes.

If the Senate passes the bill, the country will have a standard to address a serious economic and environmental problem - - one that has bi-partisan support and is especially important to Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states.

In Wisconsin, a number of organizations have been pushing hard for state and national action, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, led by former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer.

A nice explanation of the issue is in this piece by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dan Egan.

On Friday afternoon, WISN-AM's conservative talk show host Mark Belling weighed in strongly backing the measure despite its origins in the Democratic-led US House.

Belling had to assure his audience that he wasn't turning into a lefty Al Gore-type, and professed a bit of dismay when liberals, including yours truly, called in to agree with and praise him.

He tried unsuccessfully to find some partisan ground on which to stamp his feet, blaming "lefty" lakefront city Mayors and Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to do something about these problems here.

But, in fact, the DNR has been involved, as has Doyle, on pilot projects to remove invasives in Wisconsin ports precisely because there was no national approach.

And it would be settling for a half-loaf if the national standards could not be superseded by stronger standards sought for Wisconsin. (See Midwest Environmental Advocates statement below.)

Never the less, no one called to complain that Belling was somehow taking the side of big government against business.

People understand that a healthy Great Lakes is crucial to the Wisconsin economy.

Tourism, recreation, commercial and sport fishing all are dependant on clean, abundant, appealing water in Wisconsin - - and that is why the ballast water rules, a water quality approach, is just as important as a larger Great Lakes Restoration plan stalled in Washington, and the pending Great Lakes Compact, which is a water quantity issue.

It's all tied together: it's time to pay great attention to the Great Lakes, whether you're conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, righty or lefty.

I've dished out plenty of criticism to Belling over the years, but when he's right about something, it's important to acknowledge it.

I also need to note that Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm, is calling for amendments to the bill to strengthen it.

Below is the text of the MEA position, (a link is here) all of which make sense to me:

House Bill Threatens EPA and State Authority to Regulate Invasive Species in Ballast Water

Madison, WI -- Today, Midwest Environmental Advocates (“MEA”), along with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (“MCEA”), expressed its opposition to portions of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008, H.R. 2830, which includes the Ballast Water Treatment Act of 2008, in letters to Wisconsin’s and Minnesota’s congressional representatives. The bill, scheduled for a House floor vote this week, could take away important federal and state tools currently available to fight invasive species.

As currently drafted, the bill is objectionable because it could undermine two crucial tools that State officials have to control the introduction of aquatic invasive species from ship’s ballast water. The bill would largely preempt States from adopting discharge standards that are more stringent or that take effect sooner than those in the new law. In addition, by superseding the existing invasive species law’s savings clause, the bill could be read as limiting the application of the federal Clean Water Act to these point source discharges of pollutants.

Invasive species, such as zebra mussels or Eurasian water milfoil, cause incredible devastation to the native fish and plant life of the state’s waters. Invasives also place a strain on Wisconsin’s economy. Tourism, recreation and sport and commercial fishing industries face the most obvious impacts, but any industry that uses raw water for processing is also affected (power companies and paper mills, for instance).

MEA believes that this bill will perpetuate the economic and environmental harm from invasive species for many years to come. “The bill, as currently proposed, would limit a state’s authority to protect its own waters from invasive species,” states Karen Schapiro, MEA’s Executive Director. “We would like to see a bill that allows and encourages states to set standards that are even more stringent than the absolute minimums set forth in federal law, such as the Clean Water Act.”

In the letters, MEA and MCEA urged the addition of two provisions to H.R. 2830 that will protect the efficacy of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the State’s ability to exercise its authority in upholding the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or its own applicable laws and authority.


Fast Facts

Ø Invasive species are incredibly pervasive across Wisconsin’s waters. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 1,655 waterbodies in the state have aquatic invasives. These include such invasives as zebra mussel, banded mystery snail, Chinese mystery snail, curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian water-milfoil, freshwater jellyfish, Japanese mystery snail, hybrid milfoil, rainbow smelt, rusty crawfish and spiny waterflea.

Ø Several industries in Wisconsin are impacted by invasive species, including tourism, commercial and sport fishing industries, forestry and even the power companies.

Ø Power companies use raw water to cool their machinery during production. Invasive species like zebra mussels clog their intake and discharge pipes, leading to extra costs. These costs are then passed along to customers.

Ø The Great Lakes sport and commercial fishing industry, valued at almost $4.5 billion, is at risk due to the growing numbers of invasive species present in its waters.[1]

Ø Midwest Environmental Advocates is Wisconsin’s first and only public interest environmental law center. MEA provides legal and technical support to grassroots organizations that are fighting for clean air, clean water, and environmental justice. See for more information.
[1] Facts taken from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website, “Invasive Species Make Themselves at Home in Wisconsin’s Lakes and Landscapes,” (last visited April 24, 2008).


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