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Mich. Legislature votes to roll back ballast standards to control invasive species

Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio

A bill that environmental groups say would be a step backward in the fight against invasive species in the Great Lakes is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder's desk.

Snyder has opposed the bill, according to spokesperson Anna Heaton, but has not said whether he will veto it.

The state House voted 66-42 last week in favor of the bill, and the state Senate passed it today in a 25-11 vote.

The bill would scrap Michigan's current standards for killing invasive species in the ballast water of ocean-going ships in its ports, and would replace them with federal ones.  

"The federal standards that we have right now are not sufficiently protective to actually stop new invasions from getting into the Great Lakes," said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance of the Great Lakes. 

According to James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, lowering the standards would likely result in new invasive species entering the ecosystem and causing harm to Michigan's fisheries and recreation industry. 

The bill would revise a 2005 Michigan law that requires ocean-going vessels either to use state approved technology to get rid of invasive species before discharging ballast water or to certify that they will not discharge into Michigan waters. 

According to Clift, the U.S. Coast Guard, whose standards would replace those of the state under the new bill, permits a phase-in of treatment systems over a period of years that could be extended, and in the interim, ships could dump ballast water that had not been treated. 

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway, said Michigan's current standards hinder port development in Michigan and send ocean-going export business to other Great Lakes states and provinces which have less stringent requirements than Michigan.

"My goal behind the bill is to get Michigan back in the export business," said Lauwers.

"I'm saying it's time to adopt these standards and get on the same level playing field that the rest of the Great Lakes states and provinces who are shipping are using," Lauwers said. 

But environmental groups say Michigan is especially vulnerable to harm from aquatic invasive species.

Michigan really does stand to lose out more than any other state if new invasives are brought in," said Charlotte Jameson, government affairs director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. "We have more Great Lakes shoreline, and we are more dependent economically and recreationally than other Great Lakes state on the Great Lakes." 

And the stakes are high, according to Brammeier. He said the Great Lakes region suffers losses of more than $200 million annually from the impacts of aquatic invasive species. 

Scientists believe that dozens of invasive species that have reached the Great Lakes in recent decades came in the ballast water of ocean-going ships.