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Conservation groups are decrying a bill moving in the House of Representatives that would set back progress gained in stopping aquatic invasive species introductions into the Great Lakes from the ballast of commercial vessels.

H.R. 2840, the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011, was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R- NJ) and passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and to the House floor yesterday by voice vote.
 
As written, HR 2840 would eliminate the federal obligation to prevent the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes through vessels’ ballast water discharges. Specifically, the bill exempts ballast water discharges from federal Clean Water Act permits and tougher state laws, both of which require ships to install technologies to clean ballast water.

The bill would also replace much of the U.S. Coast Guard’s historic authority to prevent invasive species introductions with a directive that it adopt ballast water performance standards established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as the sole limits on vessels’ dumping of invasive species. The IMO standards are widely recognized as inadequate to fully protect the Great Lakes and other aquatic ecosystems from invasive species.

“This bill derails recent progress made to develop a strong national policy to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, Director of the National Wildlife Federation-Great Lakes Program Office. “The obligation to establish standards to protect water quality, the obligation to provide for public input, and states’ rights are all erased.”
 
“The House bill would get rid of the best tools we have to ensure that ballast treatment is adopted as quickly as possible and keeps improving over time,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As vessels have been the primary delivery vehicles for invasive species in the Great Lakes, the House bill would bring the fight against this ‘living’ pollution to a grinding halt.”
 
Current law requires both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Coast Guard to set protective ballast water standards that will prevent invasive species introductions. Although the agencies have yet to fully implement these requirements, significant progress has been made in recent years, as the EPA has committed to publish a new draft Vessel General Permit by Nov. 30 that will, for the first time, propose numeric limits on invasive species in ballast water discharges. The Coast Guard has announced it will finalize its own ballast water discharge rules around the same time.

The bill sent to the House floor today would nullify both of those efforts to set ballast water discharge standards within a framework that increases the level of protection over time as technologies improve.
 
“This bill offers no gains for Great Lakes, only losses,” said Jennifer Nalbone, Director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. “It erases all motivation to go beyond the mediocre International Maritime Organization standard.”
 
“While federal agencies try to make forward progress, this bill changes course and waves the white flag,” said Joel Brammeier, President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “We need a commitment to prevent all new invasions -- not a retreat to the lowest common denominator.”

Source: Alliance for the Great Lakes