As reported in the last issue of Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat News (Summer 2005), federal lawmakers in the U.S. are pursuing comprehensive regulation of the persistent and devastating invasive species problem. Entering the basin through ballast water, various types of live fish trade, and artificial connections between the Great Lakes and other watersheds, invasive species have caused billions of dollars in damage to our waters. Unlike other types of pollution, the jury is still out on who will take ultimate authority and responsibility for fixing this ongoing problem.
Around Lake Michigan, state elected officials aren’t waiting for the federal government to stop destructive invasive species from entering the Great Lakes as stowaways in ships’ ballast water – the source of the majority of damaging invasions. Michigan is leading the way after Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation this summer allowing Michigan to set its own controls against invasive species. Shepherded by state Sen. Patricia Birkholz (R-Saugatuck) and Rep. David Palsrok (R-Manistee), the new law is a revision of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. Starting in January 2007, ocean-going vessels must either certify that they won’t discharge invasive species, or that they employ approved ballast water treatment technology.
Despite the exemption for ballast water from the federal Clean Water Act, states are free to impose regulations that are stricter than federal rules. Language adding ballast water to the list of regulated pollutants under the state’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program allows Michigan to set standards for these discharges – and fine ships that fail to comply.
Another component of the Michigan law is for the Department of Natural Resources to pursue a partnership with the resource management agencies of the other 7 Great Lakes states when developing standards. This will ensure that a common standard is applied throughout the U.S. Great Lakes basin and minimize the regulatory burden for ships that discharge ballast into the waters of multiple states on their voyages in the Great Lakes. While Michigan cannot enter into official agreements with the governments of Canada or the Canadian provinces, the DNR plans to consult across international borders prior to announcing final standards.
This cooperative approach will only be effective if other Great Lakes states are able to implement similar rules. Years of federal delays on comprehensive invasive species legislation have raised the hackles of Wisconsin lawmakers as well. Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) and Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), Senate and Assembly chairmen of their respective Natural Resources Committees, have stated that they plan to introduce legislation modeled after the Michigan bill to prohibit ballast water discharges unless those vessels have the proper permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Wisconsin officials have grown weary of the blockades continually thrown in the way of federal legislation. “I am frustrated by the lack of leadership and the lack of action by the federal government,” Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle said in June. “Neither the Coast Guard nor the EPA have aggressively pursued any solutions that would prevent new introductions.” Doyle is working with the Wisconsin DNR to evaluate the Michigan approach.
“These unwelcome species are ecological and biological bullies and without a concerted effort, they’ll continue to push us around for decades to come,”said Kedzie when announcing Wisconsin’s next move. Illinois state Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) has introduced a bill, as have legislators near other lakes in New York and Minnesota, readying themselves to pick up the slack should federal bills continue to be stymied.