Ballast Rule Changes Make for Strange Bedfellows

19 Sep 2012

Last Thursday the Michigan Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes met to discuss, among other things, Senate Bill 1212.  The bill would amend Part 31 (Water Resources Protection) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a permit to oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations in Michigan if the vessel flushed its ballast tanks completely while at sea.

Ballast water is water carried by a cargo ship in its hulls when empty to keep the vessel balanced.  A large ship can carry millions of gallons of ballast water.  As a ship takes on cargo, the ballast water, which was taken in wherever the ship last unloaded its cargo, is discharged.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, ballast water from ships is the primary channel for unintentionally introducing invasive aquatic organisms into U.S. waters and most of the 185 invasive species found in the Great Lakes were introduced through ballast water discharge.

Michigan’s current law has been in effect since 2005 and is one of the most stringent ballast laws in the country.  The law requires all oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations in Michigan to obtain a permit from the DEQ.  The Department must issue a permit if the applicant can demonstrate that the vessel will not discharge aquatic nuisance species; or, if the vessel discharges ballast water or other waste, that the operator will use environmentally sound technology and methods, as determined by the DEQ, to prevent the discharge of aquatic nuisance species.

The bill proposes to identify one specific treatment method – deep water exchange – that could satisfy the permit requirements.  In essence, the DEQ would be required to issue a permit if the applicant could demonstrate that the vessel conducted a complete flushing of all ballast tanks with sea water at a location at least 200 nautical miles from shore at a depth of more than 2,000 meters, or another location approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

At the meeting last Thursday, representatives from the DEQ, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the National Wildlife Federation testified against the bill.  Their main argument is that weaker ballast rules would invite more invasive species into the Great Lakes, thereby further jeopardizing the Great Lakes and its related fishing and tourism industries.  Representatives from the Detroit Regional Chamber, Nicholson Terminal & Dock Company and the International Association of Machinists testified in support of the bill, arguing that Michigan is driving away potential business because ships choose to go to ports in states with looser ballast laws.

For a copy of the bill visit here.

To view the Detroit Free Press guest commentary article on Senate Bill 1212 written by Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality visit here.


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