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Post date: July 15 2004

Great Lakes States Urge Action On Aquatic Invasive Species

New York Attorney General Spitzer today announced a coordinated effort by seven states to combat the problem of harmful invasive species in American waterways, including the Great Lakes.

The states, led by New York and including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are calling for stronger action to control discharges of ballast water from oceangoing vessels, a practice identified as the chief cause of the problem.

"Ballast water ought to be considered a significant pollutant," Spitzer said."The exotic species of fish, mussels and plants contained in these discharges multiply at fantastic rates and overwhelm our ecosystem. The federal government can and must be more aggressive in combating this problem, which each year costs Great Lakes communities billions of dollars in damages."

As part of the coordinated effort, the states today filed a petition with the United States Coast Guard to revise ballast water management regulations. Ballast water -- used to balance large oceangoing ships -- often contains non-native animals and plants picked up at previous ports of call. Although Congress has mandated that the Coast Guard ensure that all ships with ballast tanks manage the ballast water so that viable invasive species are not discharged, current Coast Guard rules exempt most ships from such requirements. The petition asks the Coast Guard to close this loophole.

In addition, the states have filed a "friend of the court" brief in a key court case challenging the federal Environmental Protection Agency's decision to exempt ballast water discharges from federal water pollution rules. The states maintain that the EPA's exemption violates the Clean Water Act's prohibition on discharge of pollution from vessels and creates another loophole.

According to the petition, the vast majority of vessels on the Great Lakes do nothing to inactivate or kill foreign invaders in their ballast water and the EPA has set no limits on ballast water discharges. While the states' action focuses on the Great Lakes, invasive species present a major water pollution problem throughout the country.

The harm caused by invasive species such as the zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil, round goby and spiny water flea in the Great Lakes is widespread. For example, utilities annually spend tens of millions of dollars to combat zebra mussel infestations, which clog water intake valves. Milfoil chokes many recreational waterways, requiring either expensive "mowing" of the weed or chemical treatment that has unintended consequences.

State officials noted that there are many technologies, either in use or in various stages of development, that can help prevent introduction of invasive species. These include flow-through exchange, de-oxygenation, filtration and UV treatment.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said: "Aquatic species from foreign waters like zebra mussels and lampreys are pollutants and should be regulated as such. These non-native animals and plants cause economic and environmental harm that may not be as visible - but is just as dangerous - as the industrial toxic waste that polluted Lake Michigan in past decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's failure to protect the Great Lakes from these invaders is no different than looking the other way while someone dumps poison into our water."

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester said: "Michigan is pleased to sign the petition. As part of this environmental partnership, we're committed to preventing invasive species from finding their way into the Great Lakes, and the U.S. Coast Guard must now demonstrate a similar commitment."

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Christopher Jones said: "The Coast Guard already has clear authority to act on the ballast water issue. That authority stems from a recognition by Congress of the extensive harm caused by the introduction of non-native species, not only to the ecosystem itself but to the bottom line of communities, businesses and recreational venues that are forced to spend millions of dollars combating these invaders. We are simply asking the Coast Guard to implement the law."

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said: "Many of these invasive species pose serious ecological and economic threats because of their potential to foul industrial facilities and plug public water supply intakes that draw from infested waters. They can even interfere with the operation of locks and dams on rivers, or damage boat hulls and engines. The Bush Administration's failure to act will have repercussions that stretch far beyond just the environmental arena, particularly in Pennsylvania. Outdoor recreation has become one of the engines that drive our economy. Fishing and boating alone have economic impacts valued at more than $2 billion per year for the Commonwealth. Some of the natural beauty and wildlife that draw people to Pennsylvania are already at risk. Allowing the destruction of our waterways and recreational resources will devastate the very prizes that have made Penn's Woods so famous throughout the nation."

Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said: "We are taking these actions because Wisconsin's environment and economy continue to be harmed by the steady introduction of invasive species, the primary source of which is coming from uncontrolled ballast water discharges from ships plying the Great Lakes. To date, the federal government has not seen fit to propose effective solutions to deal with it, so we are demanding it now. Wisconsin is making significant efforts to respond to many invasive animals and plants like zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, round gobys, rusty crayfish and the like in our lakes, rivers and streams. But those efforts will be frustrated as long as ships keep dumping them back into our waters. Our actions today will begin the process of correcting this damaging problem."

A leading environmental group, Great Lakes United, joined the petition to the Coast Guard and praised the action by the states.

Jennifer Nalbone, Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator with Great Lakes United, said: "Since ocean-going ships started using the Great Lakes Seaway in 1959, 36 of the 50 new aquatic invasions to the Great Lakes originated from ocean-going vessel transportation. Without adequate controls on ocean going vessels, many more foreign invaders are hitchhiking to these fresh waters via dirty ballast tanks. The states' efforts are essential to ensure that the Great Lakes quickly gain the protection from invasive species that are desperately needed."

The Great Lakes contain 18 percent of the world's and 95 percent of the United States' supply of fresh surface water. The Great Lakes ecosystem is a source of drinking water for over 33 million people in the United States and Canada, and used by millions of people for energy, recreational, agricultural, industrial and transportation purposes.

The petition to the U.S. Coast Guard was filed today by New York Attorney General Spitzer, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty and Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.

The "friend of the court" brief was filed today by New York Attorney General Spitzer, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Acting Chief Counsel Richard P. Mather Sr. and Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. The amicus brief was filed in the Northern District of California in the case "Northwest Environmental Advocates et al vs. US Environmental Protection Agency."

The case and petition are being handled by New York Assistant Attorney General Timothy Hoffman and Scientist Raymond Vaughan, under the supervision of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter Lehner.