Senate passes bill to keep ballast water containing invasive species out of the Great Lakes

Original article: Lee Burgquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a measure that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set rules requiring that ocean-going ships entering the Great Lakes treat ballast water before the water is released into the lakes.

The new policy is contained in a funding bill for the U.S. Coast Guard, and it comes after conservationists and the shipping industry have sparred for years over regulation of ballast water, a pollutant.

Under the measure, the EPA would regulate ballast water and the Coast Guard would enforce the rules. The bill keeps many clean water protections while making it more difficult for states to enact protections that go beyond the federal measure.

Ballast water helps steady ships, but it also contains viruses, algae and an array of invasive organisms that have upended the ecosystem of the lakes.
Three new non-native species have been discovered in the Great Lakes in the last four years. In all, the lakes have been damaged by more than 180 invasive and non-native species, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This “biological pollution” has included quagga and zebra mussels, which have decimated fish populations and spurred algae outbreaks, including an outbreak that polluted the public drinking water supply of Toledo, Ohio, for two days in 2014.

The EPA removed ballast water from the list of industrial pollutants in the 1970s that would be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The thinking at the time: The water in tanks were not pollution because they contained only seawater.

Conservation groups applauded the Senate action because it eliminated earlier versions of the legislation that would have removed many water protections.

“At a time when communities across the region are grappling with the environmental and economic devastation brought by aquatic invasive species, now is not the time to weaken clean water protections,” the environmental groups said in a statement.

They included the National Wildlife Federation and state affiliates, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

An industry group, the Lake Carriers’ Association, said the legislation struck a good balance of “achieving protection of both the economy and the environment.”

The measure now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

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