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AIS Federal Legislation Issues Web Meeting

U.S. aquatic invasive species, ballast water laws evolving

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.

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GLLC Statement During June 23 GLEC Meeting

I was pleased to be able to make the following statement today on behalf of the GLLC during the semi-annual meeting of the binational Great Lakes Executive Committee (GLEC):

Thank you for holding this online meeting and giving me the chance to report to the GLEC on behalf of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus, or GLLC. For those who aren’t familiar with the Caucus, it is a binational, nonpartisan organization of state and provincial legislators serving in the Great Lakes region. The Caucus was founded in 2003 by a group of highly engaged state legislators led by the late Michigan Senator Patty Birkholz.

Today’s meeting has covered a lot of ground. The cleanup of Areas of Concern and the economic benefits that result from those investments of federal, state, and local dollars; high lake levels and the impact they’re having on coastal communities; nutrients and chemicals of emerging concern that affect our drinking water resources; and aquatic nuisance species introduced into or spreading throughout the Great Lakes in ballast water or other means – these issues are all of great importance to the leaders and the members of the GLLC.

We know that moving the needle on all the issues discussed today requires a significant investment on the part of the federal governments, municipalities, and state and provincial governments. And that leads me to make two points.

First, the economic impact of the COVID pandemic will no doubt have an impact on our ability to devote the necessary resources to some of the issues that are most important to the Great Lakes community. We’ll need to manage our expectations in the near term and, ideally, coordinate regionally to identify the most critical investments – those that can have the biggest return or are the most protective of public and environmental health. And we’ll need to work together as a community to increase investments again once we’re through this public health and economic crisis.

Second, investments specifically from the states and provinces will be critical to our collective success in addressing the key issues covered today. Because the GLLC is the only Great Lakes organization whose members can pass laws and appropriate funding at the state and provincial level, I encourage the agencies to engage with GLLC members whenever you can.

Whether it’s speaking on one of the Caucus’s virtual meetings or including GLLC members or staff on stakeholder groups or the Great Lakes Advisory Board, it’s important to make sure state and provincial legislators are part of the discussion. If legislators are going to be asked to prioritize funding for Great Lakes projects over other important activities, they need to know what’s being done, why, and how that work will benefit the lakes and the residents, businesses, and industries that depend on them. Thank you.