Federal Legislation to Stop Aquatic Invaders Reintroduced

Federal Legislation to Stop Aquatic Invaders Reintroduced

By Jen Nalbone, Great Lakes United

Our nation’s waters face increasing threats from aquatic invasive species, so Senators Carl Levin (MI) and Susan Collins (ME), and Representatives Wayne Gilchrest (MD) and Vernon Ehlers (MI) have reintroduced legislation to protect U.S. waterways from the invasion of aquatic invasive species and the environmental and economic damage they cause. The Senate bill is numbered S. 770; the House bills are numbered H.R. 1592 and H.R. 1593.

The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2005 would reauthorize and strengthen the National Invasive Species Act of 1996. NAISA covers all the bases – it is a well-thought-out, comprehensive approach to preventing and controlling aquatic invaders across the entire nation.

The bill provides for development and implementation of a strong permanent ballast water discharge standard that will eliminate the risk of introductions from the No. 1 pathway of entry for aquatic invasive species- the release of ballast water from ocean-going vessels. NAISA also provides for rapid response when new invaders are discovered, controlling those species that are established, and for researching pathways of introduction as well as prevention and control technologies.

This is the third attempt to pass NAISA, which, in previous attempts in 2002 and 2003, has failed to get out of committee. Its failure to pass so far is due, at least in part, to a few advocates who are concerned about how the law could impact private property owners. However, the truth is NAISA avoids taking control of the property of individual landowners and stops invasive problems at our borders – before they start. This type of prevention comes by enforcing ballast water discharge standards or placing the burden of proof that a species will cause no harm on the shoulders of the importer. In fact, invasive species protections support private enterprise, from utilities and manufacturing associations to sporting goods shops and marinas. It’s time for Congress to focus on the facts, science and accurate interpretation of the impacts of invasive species policy and make passage of this bill a top priority.

The introduction of the bill comes at a time when state lawmakers, federal agencies and even the courts are reviewing policies to prevent and control aquatic invasive species. In April, afederal court in San Francisco ordered the U.S. EPA to repeal its exemption that allowed ships to discharge ballast water without a Clean Water Act permit.

The U.S. Coast Guard is reviewing its ballast water program which exempts more than 80 percent of the vessels entering the Great Lakes from regulation.

Cooperative state and federal efforts are needed to ultimately protect the Great Lakes from aquatic invaders. In the long run, it will be federal legislation and regulation in both the United States and Canada that best protect the Great Lakes, because as we have seen with the zebra mussel, some invaders rapidly expand their range across watersheds, causing extensive damage along the way. Federal protection from ballast water and other invasive vectors is the best insulation from invaders that could migrate to the Great Lakes.

However, state level efforts to set standards for controlling ballast water specifically in the Great Lakes certainly puts pressure on the federal government to stop foot dragging. Lawmakers in New York, Illinois, and Minnesota have introduced legislation in 2005 to clamp down on ballast water discharge due to inaction by the federal government. Perhaps most notably, Michigan legislators have passed a bill to regulate discharges of ballast water under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, defusing any remaining myth that biological pollution should not be on par with its chemical counterpart when it comes to protecting our waterways. Other states are likely waiting in the wings to follow Michigan’s lead.

If your organization would like more information on NAISA, state efforts and aquatic invasive species news in the Great Lakes, please feel free to contact Jennifer Nalbone at Great Lakes United, jen@glu.org or 716-213-0408, or subscribe to a free email list by sending a plain text, blank email from the address you wish to subscribe: join-ais@list.glu.org

 

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