Tonawanda News

December 6, 2012

Ballast bill rejected in House

Staff Reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Federal legislation that was created to combat the growing problem of invasive species in the Great Lakes was defeated in Congress on Wednesday, though critics said the measure was too weak.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, said language in the legislation was flawed and would have endangered the ability of New York state to enforce more stringent standards on vessels that dump their ballast water stored in tanks. The tanks are often filled in international waters, where species not native to the United State are collected, and are then released into local lakes and rivers. 

While the fight to improve regulations has been ongoing for more than a decade, environmental groups have called the proposed legislation weak and ineffective. Slaughter agreed, stating that it would raise environmental and economic health concerns in the Great Lakes region. 

“Previously proposed standards ... would have prevented New York and other states from effectively fighting invasive species like Asian carp, which would cost taxpayers billions,” she said. “The Great Lakes provide 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and directly support over 1.5 million jobs, generating $62 billion in wages every year. For those of us who live on its shores, we must be able to set effective standards to protect this valuable economic and natural treasure.” 

Slaughter offered an amendment to language of the bill, which failed in the House earlier this year. 

In November 2011, Slaughter joined a bipartisan coalition and wrote to Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the United States Coast Guard, to urge the implementation of alternative standards that would provide states like New York flexibility to protect their waters. The Coast Guard’s final rule was published in March. 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and environmental groups such as Great Lakes United have been critical of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency for proposals that they contend would not go far enough in fighting non-native plants and wildlife, while also proposing that the state instill its own stricter standards. 

The bill will now return to the U.S. Senate, where it is expected to be cleared for enactment.