Great Lakes provisions included in Coast Guard reauthorization bill
Ann Arbor, Mich. – Following years of national debate, the U.S. Senate today passed legislation that changes the authorities for regulating discharges from commercial maritime vessels. The sweeping legislation provides funding for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG); authorizes the USCG to purchase a second heavy icebreaker to clear shipping lanes and harbors; establishes a USCG Center of Expertise for Great Lakes Oil Spill Preparedness and Response to develop techniques for responding to spills in the unique environment of the Great Lakes; and establishes programs for Great Lakes Invasive Species Monitoring and for Coastal Aquatic Invasive Species Mitigation Grants.
The legislation also makes changes to Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) provisions that would modify the regulation of ballast water and other discharges from commercial vessels. The revised provisions direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set national standards for ballast water and directs USCG to implement and enforce the standards. In a major change, the legislation preempts the authority of the states to establish separate discharge standards. The navigation industry has long called for a single national standard for ballast water to minimize the burden of complying with multiple state standards. An earlier USCG authorization bill failed over concerns that ballast water provisions would increase the risk of introducing and spreading aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes.
Recent negotiations produced a compromise that enables states to jointly address the Great Lakes’ unique freshwater ecosystem: any Great Lakes governor can call for a new standard or other actions, including new equipment or management practices, to address vessel discharges. The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) is charged with assessing and assisting in the development of recommendations regarding any new proposed standards for vessels in the Great Lakes.
The GLC worked closely with Senate committees to craft a role for convening and advising the Great Lakes states on new ballast water requirements. While concerns remain about new restrictions on the ability of states to establish individual requirements for state waters, this legislation represents a compromise between preventing AIS introductions and protecting the competitiveness of the commercial navigation industry.
“The GLC embraces its role in convening the Great Lakes states to tackle this challenge, consistent with authorities under the Great Lakes Basin Compact and our long history of helping our member states protect the ecological and economic health of the Great Lakes,” noted John Linc Stine, chair of the GLC and commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The legislation notably protects the existing authorities under the Great Lakes Basin Compact of 1955, which received congressional consent in 1968, and acknowledges the important role of the GLC as a neutral convener for water policy discussions in the Great Lakes Basin. The bill provides $5 million to support the GLC in that role.
“We applaud Congress’ continued recognition of the Great Lakes as a unique binational resource – it is imperative that we safeguard the Basin from the introduction and spread of harmful non-native species, while also supporting commercial navigation and our regional economy,” said GLC executive director Darren Nichols. “We appreciate the leadership of our Commissioners and Senate partners on this challenging issue and look forward to building consensus to ensure that our states, provinces, partners and citizens are working to secure a healthy future for the Great Lakes.”
The legislation now goes to the U.S. House for approval.
The Great Lakes Commission, led by chair John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission office is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at www.glc.org.