Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm
has joined Attorneys General from around the Great Lakes states in filing a brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that asks the Court to order the United States Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) to address the problem of aquatic nuisance species in the ballast water of Great Lakes ships.
In a "friend of the court" brief filed jointly with the states of New York, Minnesota, and Illinois, Granholm asked the EPA to repeal its exemption of ballast water from federal Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations. Currently, the CWA requires sea-going vessels that discharge pollutants to obtain a permit, but ballast water is exempt from the requirement. Michigan and the other states believe the exemption, promulgated by the EPA in 1973, contradicts the CWA which specifically covers "biological materials."
Granholm said: "Especially in a state so defined by its Great Lakes, we can't afford to ignore the dangers of aquatic species in our waters. By the EPA's own estimates, aquatic nuisance species cause $5 billion in damages every year. Yet the cost of preventing this harm may cost only a fraction of that amount. Protecting and preserving the Great Lakes is a win-win situation for our economy and our environment."
While exotic species have raised havoc in Great Lakes waters for decades, increases in transoceanic shipping has accelerated new harmful introductions. Years ago, the sea lamprey decimated the Great Lakes commercial fishery. Now species like the zebra mussel, round goby, and the spiny water flea harm native species through competition for food and predation.
The zebra mussel is so prolific that a million or more organisms can be found within one square meter on water intake pipes and docks. Tens of millions of dollars are spent annually to combat this one species.
In the future, Granholm hopes to work with legislative leaders, including Senator Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming), to ensure the invasion of these aquatic species is not a threat to the state's environment and economy. Through legislation sponsored by Sikkema, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) established a Ballast Water Reporting Program. Currently, all ships operating on the Great Lakes have registered with the program and are using ballast water management practices on-board ship. Additionally, P.A. 114 requires the DEQ to determine an effective method to treat ballast prior to its discharge into the Great Lakes.
Sikkema said: "Because of this legislation, Michigan is a leader in addressing the devastating impact caused by invasive species, but I continue to urge the EPA to act now to remove the most damaging policy roadblock to ending the spread of invasive species: the exemption to the federal Clean Water Act that allows ballast water to go unchecked into the waters of the Great Lakes."
Granholm said: "Michigan can, and should, be the leader in addressing aquatic species and other threats to our Great Lakes. I would like to thank Senator Sikkema for his work in defending our Great Lakes against
these aquatic nuisances and look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure the protection of our precious waterways in the future."