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Legislators in region protest proposed U.S. law limiting state regulation of ballast water

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Close to 50 state lawmakers from the Great Lakes region have signed a letter expressing “strong opposition” to federal legislation that would greatly limit the role of states in regulating the discharge of ballast water from transoceanic vessels.
Those discharges have long been a concern of states because of their role in introducing and spreading invasive species in the Great Lakes and other waterways in the region. Zebra mussels and round gobies are among the notable, or notorious, examples of such species thought to have reached this region via oceangoing vessels — with high ecological and economic costs.
“As state and provincial legislators, we also have a responsibility to protect the Great Lakes and the citizens who rely upon them,” legislators say in the letter, which was sent to U.S. senators representing the Great Lakes along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The sign-on letter includes signatures from legislators representing each of the eight Great Lakes states.
All of the signees are members of the nonpartisan Great Lakes Legislative Caucus. (CSG Midwest provides staffing services to the caucus.) The caucus’s letter-writing campaign began this summer, following a Senate committee’s passage of S. 2094, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act. As of late September, the bill had not advanced further in the legislative process.
Since it was introduced early in 2014, S. 2094 has been hailed by its sponsors and proponents as a bipartisan plan to replace a “complicated, inefficient and confusing patchwork of federal and state requirements” with a single federal standard that regulates ballast water discharges.
If signed into law, the bill would largely strip states of the power to establish tougher standards of their own.
Three Great Lakes states (see map) have established their own permitting programs regulating the discharge of ballast water from vessels. In addition, every state now has authority under the Clean Water Act to set conditions that vessels must meet in order to obtain a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These conditions are based on the standards that states believe are needed to protect the quality of their water resources.
As part of the goal of eliminating the current “patchwork” of rules, S. 2094 would put regulatory oversight in the hands of a single federal agency — the U.S. Coast Guard. The EPA’s role would be eliminated, and the Clean Water Act preempted. Under current law, the Coast Guard and the EPA both have regulatory authority.
The two agencies now have a rule (Coast Guard) or permitting standard (EPA) in place that, starting in 2016, will require oceangoing vessels to treat ballast water in a way that meets a “numeric discharge standard” (based on the concentration of organisms in water discharges). Mirroring concerns raised by some advocacy groups, the legislators’ letter calls that standard “inadequate.”
“S. 2094 adds insult to injury by taking away the right of various jurisdictions to protect the waters of their states while simultaneously putting a weak standard in place,” legislators say in the letter.