Ballast water brings in new invaders

Ballast water brings in new invaders as

Congress slowly moves to pass stricter regulations

By Corry Westbrook

Legislative Director, National Wildlife Federation

In less than two years, scientists found 13 new, potentially invasive species in the ballast water tanks of just 41 vessels entering the Great Lakes. None of the 13 had previously been found in those waters.

The report, by David M. Lodge and John M. Drake with the University of Notre Dame, also confirms what many already knew: ballast water is the most important source of new introductions into the Great Lakes, accounting for more than 64 percent of non-native species.Once a species settles into the Great Lakes, it is often only a matter of time before it moves across the country.

The evidence is clear that current ballast water regulations are not adequate in protecting U.S. waters from aquatic invaders. In the next few weeks, the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will have the opportunity to do something about that, as it prepares to vote on legislation that would set national standards for ballast water.

If the House is serious about passing legislation, it should make sure its ballast bill doesn't fall into the same traps that prevented the Senate from passing ballast legislation last month.

The 2007 Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill (H.R. 2830) shares three key weaknesses with the Ballast Water Management Act of 2007 (S. 1578). First, both the House and Senate bills include loopholes that could prevent full implementation of any new standards for years, if not indefinitely. Strong ballast standards are important, but standards mean nothing if they are not or cannot be implemented. The only way to ensure their effectiveness is to set a specific deadline for execution.

Second, both bills preempt ballast water pollutants from the Clean Water Act, effectively saying that aquatic organisms do not count as pollutants. Although strong standards are important, they are only useful if they are enforced, and the blanket exemption of ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act reduces the ability to adequately enforce any legislation.

Third, both bills prevent states from enacting measures to complement and strengthen a federal program. States such as Michigan and California have taken the initiative to protect their waters by passing their own ballast provisions that - along with strong federal regulations - would

create a complete protective framework. Other states should not be prevented from doing the same.

Aquatic invasive species are one of the worst threats to native biodiversity, and they are a great threat to our local economies. Invaders reduce game fish populations and out-compete native species for food and habitat. Great Lakes fisheries have lost approximately $119 million due to the Eurasian ruffe, an invasive fish, and California spends millions of dollars annually to stop one species - the European green crab - from destroying commercial fisheries.

Despite the wide-range of this problem, and evidence proving that new species continue to enter our waters, comprehensive legislation has sat dormant in Congress for years. This year, the Senate has failed to pass comprehensive measures as a direct result of their inability to address the problems surrounding the implementation deadlines for new standards, Clean Water Act, and states' rights.

The House committee must learn from their counterparts' mistakes and include the strengthening provisions immediately. Ballast water legislation will have a tough time passing otherwise. America's waters, wildlife, and industries wait, under siege.