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New bill calls for federal ballast regulations

Flickr | NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Labortatory

A bill passed by the Senate opens doors for new federal ballast regulations to protect lakes against invasive species.

  The United States Senate passed a bipartisan bill this week supporting federal regulations for ballast discharge. That’s the water ships pour out their sides to stabilize themselves in rough waters, often times contaminating waters with foreign invasive species in the process.

Now, the bill headed to the House of Representatives offers a federal solution: the Environmental Protection Agency will put standardized regulations in place to protect all bodies of water in the country.

James Clift is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He said while some people are worried federal regulators won’t do enough to protect the Great Lakes, the bill actually requires regulations to stay stringent.

“Some people might be a little nervous, is the federal government really going to do enough to protect our lakes, so there’s a specific provision in there that basically says ‘no backsliding’,” Clift said, “You can’t all the sudden say you’re going to promulgate a standard and then come out with something weaker than we have today, this has got to be at least as strong as we have now, hopefully even stronger.”

Clift also said regulations like this are important, as invasive species like the quagga mussel can dramatically change Michigan’s ecosystem.

“The biggest problem has been a real disruption of the food chain. The quagga mussels filter out the very small organisms that small fish use to feed on,” he said, “Those fish, of course, get bigger, and bigger fish eat them. When these mussels filter out all those really small organisms, the whole food chain starts to collapse.”

The bill was introduced as a bipartisan effort, and passed ninety-four to six in the Senate. It’s now headed to the House of Representatives for another vote.