Monday, April 28, 2008

House Passes Ballast Management Legislation: Parties Pleased

Apr 24: By a vote of 395-7, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 2830, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2007. The bill increases the size of the Coast Guard, reorganizes the Service, and enhances the Coast Guard’s dual mission of homeland security and maritime safety. Among many other items, Title V the bill requires ships to begin installing ballast water treatment systems in 2009 to control the introduction of invasive species into U.S. ports and waterways -- a measure particularly important to Great Lakes interests. All ships will be required to have treatment systems installed by 2016. The bill was sponsored by Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

Importantly, the bill apparently strikes a balance between states' rights and shippers concerns and has the support of the American Great Lakes Ports Association (AGLPA) and the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF). Various shipping interests, who have been opposed to individual state legislation such as that in place in Michigan, are supporting the legislation. Wisconsin and Minnesota have been considering similar legislation. GLMTF President Patrick O'Hern said, "This legislation is tough but fair -- this problem is big enough that it needs a tough response." GLMTF represents carriers, maritime unions, longshoremen, shipyards, dredging companies, and terminal operators.

Michigan Lt. Governor John D. Cherry Jr. who also serves as chairman of the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) praised House members for passing a bill. Cherry said, "This bill requires the federal government to accelerate actions that protect our Great Lakes and other waters nationwide. I urge members of the U.S. Senate to join in crafting a solution to stop aquatic invasive species from using ballast water as a pathway to the Great Lakes. As one of the few states to take strong independent action, I hope Congress will agree on a new federal law that Michigan and other states can strongly support."

The National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species which includes the National Wildlife Federation, Union of Concerned Scientists, Great Lakes United, National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Areas Association, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition (HOW), and The Nature Conservancy has endorsed the bill. The Coalition said the bill includes several key provisions which they have advocated, including an enhanced role for U.S. EPA to review and improve discharge standards, the addition of a provision allowing for citizens to petition the government, and the closure of a loophole that could have resulted in long-term delays in implementing onboard treatment. Additionally, they said the bill allows states to retain their ability to complement and strengthen the federal program.

The Coalition said the White House has cited the lack of clarification on how the ballast water title applies to recreational vessels among its concerns. The administration, which has threatened to veto the bill has indicated, however, that its main objection is not in Title V, but particular to Coast Guard requirements to protect liquefied natural gas terminals and vessels. The Union of Concerned Scientists says, “The House has already promised to address the White House’s concerns regarding recreational boaters separately. This strong demonstration of support in the House bodes well for withstanding the threat of a potential veto.”

On September 27, 2007, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) approved somewhat similar legislation in S. 1578, The Ballast Water Management Act of 2007 [See WIMS 10/1/07]. That bill provided states with the authority to develop programs to regulate invasive species from ships so long as the provisions did not conflict with the Federal program. Michigan's Attorney General Mike Cox opposed the provisions of the bill that would limit the ability of Michigan, other states and the EPA to protect the Great Lakes from harmful ballast water discharges. Cox and the Attorneys General of five other Great Lakes States -- Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- sent a joint letter to the Committee urging them not to approve parts of Senate Bill 1578.

Access a release from Representative Oberstar (click here). Access a release from Lt. Governor Cherry (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2830 (click here). Access a release from GLMTF (click here). Access a release from the Invasive Species Coalition (click here). Access a separate release from the HOW Coalition (click here). Access a summary of some legislators actions in support of the bill (click here). Access the AGLPA website for additional information (click here).