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U.S. Senate Blocks Law Weakening Great Lakes Regulations

Roger C
Zebra mussels are considered an invasive species on the Great Lakes.

Environmentalists are praising the U.S. Senate for blocking a measure loosening shipping regulations on the Great Lakes – and making it easier for invasive species to foul those waters.

In a key procedural vote on Wednesday, Senators voted against the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which would have weakened the regulation of ballast water.

That water has an important role in stabilizing ships, but it also can carry invasive species like zebra mussels, which upset the food chain. Problems arise when water taken from one part of the world is discharged in the Great Lakes.

“This is a victory for clean water, the Great Lakes and the communities which rely on them,” said Marc Smith, director of conservation partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, in a prepared statement.

The bill aimed to end the EPA's power to regulate ballast water discharges under the Clean Water Act. It also would have prevented states from imposing tougher regulations.

Shippers said they face a maze of state and federal regulations, and some streamlining is needed.

Many Senators from the Great Lakes region voted to block the measure. Among them was Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

"I made it crystal clear to my colleagues in the Senate that any proposal that would harm the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River is a non-starter," Schumer said in a prepared statement. "Our Great lakes are source of drinking water, tourism and source of pride for many Upstate communities and I would ferociously fight attempt to harm our environment or our water tourism industry."

Dave Rosenthal is Managing Editor of Great Lakes Today, a collaboration of public media stations that is led by WBFO, ideastream in Cleveland in WXXI in Rochester, and includes other stations in the region.