Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gov seeks water-tight ballast rules

Story Originally Appeared in The Detroit News

Regional summit to address Great Lakes shipping demands

 Gov. Rick Snyder plans to push this weekend for strengthening ballast water disposal requirements for ocean-going freighters that travel the Great Lakes during a summit of regional leaders on Mackinac Island.

In 2007, Michigan lawmakers created the region's toughest requirements for shipping vessels to unload excess water that can carry invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels that often litter Great Lakes beaches.

But surrounding states and Canadian provinces have not followed suit, so Michigan officials hope to kick-start a dialogue about the issue during the Council of Great Lakes Governors summit Snyder is hosting at the Grand Hotel.

"I would like to see at some point that we get a common standard," Snyder said Friday after kicking off the summit.

Ships are circumventing Michigan's law by "moving out of Michigan waters and dumping ballast water," said Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Creating consistent guidelines throughout the region for ocean-going ships and their handling of ballast water needs attention, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

Joel Brammeier, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, said his group is interested in the region's governments collaborating on an early detection and rapid response for invasive species.

The invasive aquatic species threat is a prime opportunity for teamwork, Brammeier said, since "when a new invader shows up … eventually it's a problem for everybody."

Some Michigan lawmakers want to roll back the ballast water requirements because of opposition from shipping companies.

In addition to water quality, top elected officials from the Great Lakes states and provinces are expected to discuss economic, ecological and transportation issues facing the region during the weekend gathering.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are scheduled to attend the summit, said Jon Allan, director of the DEQ's Office of the Great Lakes.

Quebec, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Minnesota are sending representatives, he said.

"These things are very good incubators for thinking about what collaboration in the region needs to look like," Allan said.

The governors and their representatives are expected to announce resolutions and agreements on new policy directives for Great Lakes issues on the environment, trade, transportation and water quality and levels.

"I think it's a great opportunity to say the Great Lakes are really important," Snyder said in an interview with The Detroit News. "I don't think we're going to solve all of the issues because there are differences of view between the states."

Snyder said he's pushing the region's governors and Canadian officials to forge stronger economic ties.

"We can do a better job marketing kind of the whole basin in terms of saying we're a big economy," Snyder said. "If you draw that circle (from) Montreal to Chicago, it's a third of the North American economy."

The Great Lakes face myriad threats such as falling lake levels and potential water diversions that could create precedents for future withdrawals.

The Michigan Environmental Council is monitoring the status of a requested water diversion from Lake Michigan by the Wisconsin town of Waukesha. The state of Wisconsin is reviewing the request after Waukesha's aquifer became contaminated with radium, and the way officials handle the application could set a precedent for the region.