The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s series of quarterly meetings for 2020 closed out with a presentation on aquatic invasive species and ballast water management from Sarah LeSage, who coordinates the Aquatic Invasive Species program in the Water Resources Division of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
The Dec. 11 meeting also featured a short business session during which the Caucus’s gavel was symbolically passed from outgoing Chair Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau to new Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel, and with acknowledgements of the Caucus’s Executive Committee former and new members.
Ballast water regulation is complicated and ever evolving, influenced by economic growth and global trade patterns, and the “irreversible harm caused by aquatic invasive species,” LeSage said.
Historically, ballast water has been the main vector for introduction of invasive species – between 55 percent to 70 percent of reported introductions since 1959, LeSage said.
Economic effects of aquatic invasive species include cost of control, lost aesthetic value, decreased property values, and negative impacts to tourism, recreation and fishing, she added.
She provided an overview of U.S. ballast water regulation, particularly the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018. The law designates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the lead agency for establishing new ballast water standards (the EPA’s rulemaking page, with comments submitted by state agencies, can be found here). The U.S. Coast Guard will be the lead agency for monitoring, inspecting and enforcing those standards.
The EPA published its draft rules in the Federal Register on Oct. 26, and the subsequent 30-day comment period closed on Nov. 26. Once the final rules are adopted, the Coast Guard will begin developing its corresponding regulations for implementation, compliance and enforcement – a process expected to begin in 2022, LeSage said.
The law, known as VIDA, will pre-empt state authority to have specific ballast water regulations once its standards are final, effective and enforceable, but states will still have authority to enforce federal standards and requirements, and governors can directly petition for more stringent standards/requirements.
Michigan’s ballast water permit (based on 2005 legislation) has, since 2007, required ocean-going vessels to treat ballast water before discharge using one of four approved methods or certify that there was no discharge, LeSage said, adding Minnesota and Wisconsin have similar laws.
LeSage said each Great Lakes state and province has an aquatic invasive species specialist who can serve as a resource to legislators. (A list of specialists is here.)
VIDA also authorized $50 million for a Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species program. Congress has not yet appropriated any money for the program, however. (The program was authorized for only five years, LeSage noted.