Ballast Water Bill A Step Backwards for Fight Against Invasive Species

It appears ballast water will be an issue in Michigan this fall. Senate Bill 1212 (Mike Green, R-Mayville) has been introduced and there are plans to move forward with a hearing on it in the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes committee next week, Thursday, September 13th.
What is ballast water and why is it important? Ships, especially when not carrying a full load of cargo, will regularly intake water in certain areas of the ship to help balance or increase the stability of the ship during transit. Once the vessel reaches its intended port and loads or unloads new cargo, that water is no longer needed and is then released back into the waters of the new port. The problem is this water can contain species or organisms not native to the Great Lakes that when dumped into our water can wreak havoc on our ecosystem, fisheries and economy.
Most states around the Great Lakes require oceangoing ships that dump ballast water to partake in a process called a “ballast water exchange” where the ballast water the ship had been holding is exchanged with other water miles from shore before the ship reaches port. The method is certainly better than dumping ballast water and sediment directly in our ports, but it is not designed and has not proven to stop invasive species from being introduced in the Great Lakes.
In 2006, Michigan became a leader throughout the Great Lakes region when it passed a law requiring a tougher standard than simply exchanging ballast water. The new law, passed nearly unanimously, required that oceangoing ships who wished to dump ballast water would have to install technology on board that would treat the ballast water and kill the creatures inside before dumping into the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, our partner states around the Great Lakes stuck with their ballast water exchange policies, and have not advanced to more protective standards.
Fast forward to today. Michigan’s commercial ports and the shipping industry are arguing that Michigan’s law is too strict and that we are losing shipping business to other ports in other states that have lower standards. Senate Bill 1212 is the direct result of those arguments.
Essentially, it is a defeatist argument. We’ve lost. The invasive species have won. We may as well relax our standard to coax more shipping to our state. The technology costs too much and the other states aren’t doing it anyways, they say. Michigan is losing out, and other states are gaining because we dared to be different.
With that philosophy, we are all losing out. All citizens of Great Lakes states lose out when we focus on finding the lowest common denominator for protecting the Great Lakes from infestations of new invasive species.
The fact that from Cleveland to Isle Royale we have over 75 invasive species as a result of ballast water dumping in the Great Lakes means we all lose out. The fact that we spend between $100 and $200 million each year combating invasive species means we all lose out. The fact that our fisheries and recreational opportunities are drastically changing for the worse as a result of invasive species means we all lose out.
And to say the Michigan standard has not made a difference is also untrue. This year the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be releasing their new standards for dumping ballast water. Both of these agencies, along with Canada, will be moving to a new, stricter standard that is very similar to the standard Michigan blazed the trail with 6 years ago.
As a state, Michigan has spent millions of dollars over the past few years branding itself as “Pure Michigan.” How can we deliver on that “promise” if we are satisfied with a standard that is proven to cost our state millions of dollars and does irreparable harm to our Great Lakes? How nice would it be to see our legislators going after the states and shipping companies that hinder our ability to protect the Great Lakes from the next invasive species introduction? After all, invasive species cost this state, its businesses and citizens hundreds of millions of dollars to combat every year!
Is it worth risking more harm to our $7 billion fishery so we can try to get a few more oceangoing ships (who don’t give two hoots of their horn about the Great Lakes or our fishery) into our ports?
Senate Bill 1212 is slated for a hearing next week on September 13th for testimony. It is not too late to share your thoughts with your State Senator and Representative.
We are the Great Lakes state for a reason. We have always led, and we should continue to lead.

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