U.S. Water News Online
DETROIT -- A coalition of shipping companies and industry
groups from the United States, Canada and Barbados representing ocean
freighters that transport cargo on the Great Lakes has sued Michigan,
claiming its new ballast-water law is unconstitutional.
The law, which took effect Jan. 1, is among the first of its type
in the nation. It is aimed at stopping the further introduction of
invasive species into the lakes through the discharge of ocean water
used as ballast.
A freighter takes in thousands of gallons of ballast water to
stabilize it when traveling with little or no cargo.
Four shipping companies, four shipping associations and one dock
company filed a complaint March 15 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
It asks a judge to declare the Michigan Ballast Water Act
"The ballast water statute places unreasonable burdens on
interstate commerce and is clearly excessive in relation to the
putative local benefits gained," according to the federal lawsuit.
"It's disappointing that these groups are choosing to ignore this
law that really is designed to keep our Great Lakes protected,"
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Robert McCann
told The Detroit News.
The law requires all oceangoing ships visiting Michigan ports to
obtain a state permit by either promising not to discharge ballast
water or proving they are equipped to sanitize ballast tanks with one
of four state-approved technologies.
Ocean freighters account for 5 percent of the cargo moved on the
Great Lakes, with about 220 ships entering the lakes annually,
according to government data. But scientific studies have found that
the vessels have imported most of the exotic species found in the
lakes during the past 50 years, including zebra and quagga mussels,
goby, ruffe and the spiny water flea.
The shippers, including the Seaway Great Lakes Trade Association
and the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association, say the law casts too
wide a net because only a fraction of the freighters that visit
Michigan ports each year discharge their ballast water.
"What's wrong with this picture? The same shippers that brought us
zebra mussels are now suing Michigan to stop us from protecting
ourselves from invasive species," Andy Buchsbaum, director of the
National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, told
The Muskegon Chronicle.
State Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, said she introduced her
legislation after the federal government failed to act against the
obvious source of invasive species entering the lakes.
"I am just shocked," Birkholz said of the suit by the shippers.
"If anything, we ought to be suing them."
Invasive species cause about $200 million in ecological and
economic losses each year, according to published studies. The zebra
mussel, believed to have been introduced into the lakes through
ballast water in 1988, has caused a total of $3.1 billion in damage,
according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of
There are currently 183 exotic species in the Great Lakes. The
most recent discovery was a foreign shrimp, the bloody red mysid,
found last year in Muskegon Lake, an inland lake connected to Lake
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