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Senate passes bill maintaining EPA oversight of Great Lakes invasive species rules

James Marvin Phelps
Two of the Indiana Harbor's 10 ballast tanks were treated to kill invasive species. The real-world test was conducted with the cooperation of the American Steamship Company.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill that will maintain the way ballast water discharges are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Ballast water released by ocean-going ships is a major pathway for the spread of invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Current regulations govern how many organisms can be present in water discharged into the lakes from ballast tanks. 

A previous version of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) backed by the shipping industry would have taken regulatory oversight of ballast water discharges away from the EPA and handed it over to the Coast Guard. That was defeated by Senate Democrats.

The new version of the bill passed by the Senate will maintain EPA oversight. Molly Flanagan is with the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

"Senate Democrats, with leadership by Senator Stabenow in Michigan, really took lemons and made lemonade here. It's remarkable how much she and her colleagues were able to improve this bill to make sure that it protects the Great Lakes," says Flanagan.

The Coast Guard will ensure safe functioning of technologies and enforce regulations. 

States may adopt their own ballast water regulations, but they can't be stricter than federal regulations. However, the Great Lakes states combined may work together to go beyond federal standards. Those standards have not yet been implemented. Until then, existing state and federal regulations will remain in place.

The bill also authorizes $50 million for monitoring and rapid response to new aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. 

The bill heads to the House of Representatives next.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.
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