NWF Challenges Wisconsin to Gain Stronger Protections against Invasive Species

Legal action shows Wisconsin’s new permit won’t keep new invasive species from entering the Great Lakes through ballast water

01-15-2010 // Jordon Lubetkin

The National Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation have filed a legal challenge that claims the state of Wisconsin’s new ballast water discharge permit won’t prevent freighters from importing more invasive species, like zebra mussels, into the Great Lakes.

“Compliance with the Wisconsin ballast water discharge standards would not prevent invasive species from entering Wisconsin waters,” said Neil Kagan, senior attorney at the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “Wisconsin officials have said prevention is the best way to protect the Great Lakes from new invasive species, but the state’s ballast water discharge standards won’t prevent new invasions. The state’s failure to follow its own laws to protect water quality is the basis of our lawsuit.”

Wisconsin released ballast water discharge standards in a permit in November. The permit would require ocean freighters to treat ballast water, but the discharge standards are too weak to be effective. The final permit is weaker than the draft version and contains a loophole that would allow ships to fall back to the weakest discharge standards. The permit runs counter to a state law that prohibits degradation of Wisconsin’s waters, according to officials at the National Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

“Wisconsin’s ballast water discharge permit is a mirage — it looks good from a distance but a close examination reveals serious flaws,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “The permit creates an illusion that the state is getting tough on ballast water discharges.”

Ballast water discharges by ocean freighters are the leading source of invasive species in the Great Lakes. Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, ocean ships have imported 57 invaders to the Great Lakes, according to government data. That army of invaders — which includes zebra mussels, quagga mussels and round gobies — have plunged the lakes into a state of biological chaos that costs people, businesses, utilities and cities at least $200 million per year, according to Notre Dame University researchers.

The federal government has not enacted ballast water discharge standards despite numerous agencies working on the problem for the past two decades. “Absent federal action to confront the urgent threat of invasive species, Wisconsin and other states need to do all they can to keep harmful invaders out of the Great Lakes,” Smith said. “Wisconsin’s ballast water discharge standards aren’t tough enough — the door will remain open for new invasive species to colonize and disrupt the world’s largest source of surface freshwater.”

Wisconsin’s permit would not make ballast water discharge standards applicable to lake freighters.

Preventing new invasive species introductions is one of the tenets of restoring the Great Lakes. The U.S. Congress and President Obama recently approved $475 million to restore the lakes.

We can’t fully restore the Great Lakes until we put an end to this crisis of invasive species entering the lakes,” Smith said.

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