When not fully loaded, vessels must take on water, or ballast, to maintain their stability. Ships discharge ballast water as they load cargo in order to compensate for the weight of the cargo. In some cases, ballast water contains aquatic organisms which may be harmful to the environment. Since 1994, ocean-going vessels transiting the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway have been required to exchange ballast at sea, prior to entering the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ballast exchange has been identified as one means of reducing the likelihood of transfer of non-indigenous species.
In 2005, the Michigan legislature went its own route by enacting Senate Bill 332, which required all ocean-going commercial vessels conducting port operations in Michigan to obtain a permit from the MDEQ. To receive a permit, the operator must show that it will not discharge aquatic invasive species into state waters. In response to SB 332, the MDEQ established a permit program, which requires vessel operators to disinfect ships' bllast water prior to dischage. To achieve disinfection, the MDEQ requires one of four options: use of hypochlorite (chlorine), use of chlorine dioxide (gaseous form of chlorine), use of ultra-violate light, or use of deoxygenation.
No other Great Lakes state followed this regulation, as was intended. The U.S. Coast Guard, who is responsible for inspecting ballast tanks prior to entry, does not endorse or recognize any of the MDEQ technologies. All other ports within the Great Lakes, including the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. EPA, allow for ballast exchange outside of the St. Lawrence Seaway as an effective and approved means for reducing the introduction of aquatic nuisance species. As a result, all waterborne exports from the Great Lakes are handled everywhere EXCEPT for the State of Michigan. All Great Lakes ports, including those in Canada, recognize ballast exchange outside the seaway as a viable means of reducing the spread of aquatic nuisance species.
Michigan's law does nothing to improve the environment. It simply moves our cargo to other ports within the Great Lakes for export overseas.
New Federal Ballast Water Rules:
On March 23, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard published final regulations requiring ship owners to install ballast water treatment equipment. Such equipment will filter and clean ballast water to remove aquatic organisms. The rules took effect and have the force of law as of June 23, 2012. Ship owners all over the United States will have to comply with the new rules.
In addition to the new Coast Guard rules, the U.S. EPA has proposed new ballast water discharge standars. They new standards are to go into effect in December of 2013. The EPA requirements are similar to the Coast Guard rules.
It's time to revisit Michigan's Regulations:
In light of new federal laws to address the ballast water/ invasive species problem, and in light of the negative impact of Michigan's ballast water regulations, it is appropriate for the State of Michigan to revisit its ballast water regulations and revise them to enable full use of Michigan ports.
Senator Mike Green (31st District - Saginaw) has introduced legislation that will bring Michigan in-line with all other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces. To read his legislation, click here.