Ballast discharge bill needs more work before becoming law

A bill that’s slowly moving through the U.S. Senate establishing one federal standard for ballast discharged from vessels has drawn the approval from the trade association representing Great Lakes shipping. Environmentalists and others, though, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, have expressed reservations.

The measure was approved by voice vote in the upper chamber’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, much to the pleasure of the Lake Carriers Association, which represents vessels on the Great Lakes. The association has long supported the single federal standard because it would supercede statutes and regulations enacted by states that border affected waterways that are often more stringent.

“Without (this change), thousands of commercial vessels will spend billions of dollars installing ballast-water management systems to meet the federal standard but will still be at risk of fines and penalties for violating several different state standards these (systems) can’t meet,” the group said in a written statement.

According to one report, more than 185 nonnative species have taken up residence in the Great Lakes, many, no doubt, as a result of ballast water discharged from ocean-going vessels that have come from overseas. Governments at all levels spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to battle these species with what many experts may call mixed results.

The measure is a complex one. It places in the hands of the U.S. Coast Guard the responsibility for enforcement, for example. In addition, vessels may have to dump ballast well outside of the Great Lakes before entering the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Senators from both sides of the aisle promise to seek middle ground before the measure comes anywhere near the Senate floor and a vote. We hope so. With Snyder and Schuette both voicing alarm, this measure needs much more work before it’s ready for prime time.