DNR moves ahead to halt invasivesTired of waiting for Congress to enact ballast rules to prevent the next zebra mussel from invading the Great Lakes,
By: By DAN EGAN/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Daily Telegram
Tired of waiting for Congress to enact ballast rules to prevent the next zebra mussel from invading the Great Lakes, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is moving toward writing its own rules to control what overseas ships are allowed to dump into the world’s largest freshwater system.
The department was prodded by conservationists who argued that the state had authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate ballast just like any other pollutant.
The DNR started exploring the issue late last year and has come to the conclusion that existing law does, indeed, give it the authority to regulate those discharges. The next step is to do something about it.
“The department is evaluating regulatory options,” the department wrote in a Feb. 11 memo in advance of Tuesday’s Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting in Madison.
The Michigan legislature has already passed its own ballast bill, and other Great Lakes legislatures are considering similar moves.
But Wisconsin DNR lawyers believe their agency can act without legislative action.
The Great Lakes are home to more than 180 foreign species, and studies show a new one is discovered, on average, about every six months. The majority of invaders in the last few decades have arrived in the ship-steadying ballast tanks of overseas freighters.
Congress has been considering a national bill to address the issue for several years, but Wisconsin conservationists and some legislators say it’s time to act now to protect state waters in Lakes Superior and Michigan, and the thousands of inland lakes that can also be affected by what overseas ships bring into the region.
“The federal government has been given ample opportunity to address this issue, and to this point, states have tried to remain patient,” Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, said in a news release after the DNR’s announcement that it believes it can act on its own.
“I am hopeful that the DNR’s decision to begin regulating ballast water will shed additional light on this important issue and spur both our State’s Legislature as well as the federal government to take further action.”
The DNR said it does not expect Congress to pass a bill by year’s end, and that is why it wants to start moving forward with its own rules
DNR staff said they didn’t act earlier because it was not clear the state had the authority until a federal judge recently ruled in a California case that the Clean Water Act applies to ballast. The shipping industry also sued Michigan over its ballast law, but the case was thrown out last year.
In their memo to the resources board, staff said they would be working closely with colleagues in Minnesota, which is pursuing similar rules, to ensure that the regulations are compatible.
Shipping advocates acknowledge there is a problem but say the best solution is one overarching federal law rather than a patchwork of potentially inconsistent state laws.
Wisconsin DNR officials also informed the Natural Resources Board at its monthly meeting in Madison Tuesday that the agency is steaming ahead with a $6 million pilot program that would treat ballast water not on ships but in onshore wastewater facilities.
DNR officials said that Gov. Jim Doyle identified $6 million that could be used for the Wisconsin ports in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Superior.
Roger Larson, deputy director of the DNR Bureau of Watershed Management, said Milwaukee would be used as a test of the technology, with treatment starting in the 2009 shipping season.
The idea has support from former DNR Secretary George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
But Natural Resources Board Chairman Christine Thomas of Stevens Points said that if onshore ballast treatment is going to be explored, it should done at a gateway port to the Great Lakes.
“Letting ships wander the length of the Great Lakes and then dealing with the problem in Duluth and Superior makes no sense to me,” she said.
— Copyright © 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services