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Conservation groups say EPA proposal fails to protect the Great Lakes

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

If they choose to do so, the governors of the Great Lakes have less than three weeks to object to an Environmental Protection Agency proposal.

That proposal would exempt cargo ships that only travel in the Great Lakes from having to treat ballast water to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. For years, the Great Lakes shippers say they were not responsible for invasive species; it was the ocean-going cargo ships that were the problem.

But a study by the Great Waters Research Collaborative at the University of Wisconsin-Superior found the Great Lakes-only shippers were spreading aquatic invasive species from one lake to others.

The Great Lakes Conservation Coalition is a group of conservation and environmental groups. They say the EPA’s ballast water proposal fails to protect the Great Lakes.

“EPA had a number of reasons, including that the cost of the technologies that are available, that the technologies take up too much room on the ships, basically just making the point that it would cost too much to retrofit these vessels,” said Molly Flanagan, Chief Operating Officer of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a member of the coalition.

Invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels – by one estimate – cost Great Lakes businesses, homeowners and taxpayers significantly more than $100 million a year. Some environmental groups say the cost is likely much more than that.

“The cost of aquatic invasive species to Great Lakes communities every year is hundreds of millions of dollars. And so when you compare the cost to put technologies on vessels to the cost that invasive species are costing all of us, it's really not even a comparison,” Flanagan said.

The coalition asked the EPA to extend the public comment period to give more people time to weigh in on the proposal. The agency refused.

The governors of the eight Great Lakes states have the option of objecting to the EPA’s ballast water proposal, but would have to do that within three weeks.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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